ABC news reported this morning the progress of health checks at the Herrmansburg community in the NT. I have been reading Richard Trudgen's Why Warriors lie down and die over the weekend, a reading that has left me with even graver doubts as to the likelihood that this initiative will have any substantial effects. It may even be counter productive.
While his work relates solely to the Yolnju community of eastern Arnhemland the general issues he raises seem likely to have a wider relevance.
His argument is that major problems arise from differences in worldview and subsequent difficulties in communication. He recommends five steps to a Yolnju freindly environment:
1. Take the people's language seriously
2. Train dominanct culture personnel
3. Approach education and training in a different way.
4. Replace existing programs with programs that really empower the people
5. Deal with some basic legal issues.
This is a book that should be read by every policy maker and program delivery managers, not to mention politicians - because is effectively challenges many of the comfortable nostrums that have guided policy towards indigenous communities over the past thirty years.
Trudgen provides case after case of the difficulties of communicating about health issues across worldview and language difficulties in ways that make a longterm difference to behaviour and health outcomes. he also provides some examples of how effective communication and improved health outcomes could be achieved.
Beyond this is the challenge of history. Trudgen provides an account of history from a Yojnu perspective over the period of encounter with the wider world. This is profoundly disorienting - and that is its value. The taken for granted view of the world of the Balanda (Europeans) is no longer the only way of viewing what happened in Arnhemland over the past two centuries.
To be unsettled is perhaps the beginning of wisdom?