During the past couple of weeks, I’ve been in Canada visiting Indigenous men’s drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities in Vancouver, and attending and participating in an Indigenous men’s gathering in Churchill, in the sub-arctic region of Manitoba, the polar bear capital of the world.
Churchill is a small community of 800, 80 per cent of whom are Indigenous, First Nations, Inuit and Metis.
The visit filled me with awe and inspiration as I sat and listened to the stories of Indigenous men who are striving to heal from trauma-induced substance abuse, and to positively turn around their lives for themselves, their families and their community.
Men shared their paths to addiction but, more importantly, they wanted to celebrate their journey to recovery. The stories were shared in a culturally safe and supportive environment, sponsored and created by Movember, the men’s health organisation who have funded various men’s health programs in Canada, New Zealand and Australia.
Travelling with staff from The Glen, the men’s rehabilitation centre on the NSW Central Coast, we had a stopover in Winnipeg, where we were joined by the Maori delegation prior to flying onto Churchill the next day. Interestingly, we discovered that the hotel we were staying in was a designated accommodation hub for refugees fleeing the atrocities in Ukraine.
The accent of young Ukrainians and families filled the breakfast room and blue-and-yellow ribbons representing the Ukrainian flag was worn proudly by those displaced by insanity and the thirst for power.
Speaking with some of the young Ukrainians with uncertainty in their hearts and fear in their eyes, I was able to gain a small glimpse of what they had endured, as they described the circumstances of their flight from the pathology of war.
Canada has opened its hearts to the Ukrainian refugees, who have been forced to flee the Russian invasion of their country. An estimated 30,000 have been granted refugee status in Canada. By contrast, as of May 2022, Australia had accepted only a reported 3,000 Ukrainians.
In an interview with CTV, Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship (IRCC) declared: ‘No matter how long it might take, if we believe in the values of territorial integrity of nations, of the self-determination of peoples and of the sovereignty of states, then we have to breathe life into those actions.’
Compassion, empathy and a sense of common humanity defines Canada’s contribution to the plight of the Ukrainian refugees, who are in search of safety and the promise of a new life while their country defends its sovereign rights and freedoms against an aggressive and callous Russian invasion.
Arriving back in Australia, I was greeted with the news of a new Pauline Hanson political stunt, this time involving Hanson reportedly storming out of the Senate, as Senate president Sue Lines delivered an Acknowledgement of Country.
Hanson is reported to have declared that she ‘didn’t and never would acknowledge Indigenous lands in Australia.’
Hanson’s stunt serves to remind us just how fragile and contested the process of reconciliation, social and restorative justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples really is.
Hanson of course has form where issues of equity, justice and human rights are concerned.
Who could forget the burqa stunt of 2017, when Hanson wore a burqa into the Senate to publicise her attempt to have the burqa banned?
The then federal attorney-general, Senator George Brandis, castigated Hanson for her stunt telling her that her attempt to drive the burqa ‘into a corner, to mock its religious garments, is an appalling thing to do and I would ask you to reflect on what you have done.’
Obviously, Hanson didn’t reflect on her antics, but rather simply waited for yet another opportunity when she could engage in her politics of division and the opportunity to disseminate her hatred and racism.
Hanson’s hatred and racism are in stark contrast to the acknowledgement of history, and a commitment to cultural diversity and social justice, that greet travellers when they fly into Vancouver international airport.
Travellers are greeted by magnificent first nations artwork, while the prestigious University of British Columbia (UBC) acknowledges that the land on which the University is situated is the ‘traditional, ancestral, and unceeded territory of the Musqueam People’.
Likewise, when air travellers arrive at Auckland airport in New Zealand, they are greeted in the Maori language. These are acts of respect and acknowledgement and neither of them have damaged the respective countries, but rather tell a story of respect and of human dignity.
Perhaps the hatred and racism peddled by Hanson will be with us for some time, but I remain hopeful that the majority of Australians will embrace the need for our country to heal and to commit to a world where a peaceful, dignified and honourable co-existence can be the legacy that current generations leave for those who follow.
As previously declared, I am a captive to hope.
♦ Professor Morgan is a Gumilaroi man from Walgett, western NSW. He is a highly respected and acknowledged Aboriginal educator/researcher.