Reconciliation or anti-colonialism?

Does the current momentum towards reconciliation also address the movement towards anti-colonialism?

These are two different approaches to addressing historical injustice and the legacy of colonialism.

At i=Change, we recognise that injustice and discrimination is often built upon systems of inequality rooted in colonialism. In developed countries, we like to think that colonialism ended with the building of empires – and while this may largely be true – the impacts of colonialism are still a daily lived reality for many people around the world.

Reconciliation refers to the process of bringing together individuals or groups who have been in conflict or experienced harm, to repair relationships, promote healing, and work towards a shared future. In the context of colonialism, reconciliation often involves acknowledging the harm that has been done to Indigenous peoples and building relationships based on mutual respect and understanding.

Anti-colonialism, on the other hand, is a political and social movement that seeks to dismantle the structures of colonialism and end the oppression of colonised peoples. This can include advocating for the restoration of land and resources to Indigenous communities, challenging the dominance of colonial languages and cultural practices, and fighting against the ongoing impacts of colonialism.

While reconciliation and anti-colonialism are distinct approaches, they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Reconciliation can be an important step toward healing and building relationships, but must be grounded in a commitment to addressing the root causes of historical injustices and ongoing oppression.

Similarly, anti-colonialism can be a powerful force for change, but must also be informed by a vision of a just and equitable future, recognising that its impacts are felt today, based on a worldview that was enormously destructive for indigenous communities, which forms the foundation from which reconciliation is still required.

Kim Kelly, co-founder of ALNF, has dedicated almost 20 years to ensuring that indigenous children are given equal access to the numeracy and literacy skills many Australians take for granted. Kim is a tireless advocate for the power of literacy to transform lives. Record low rates of literacy in some Indigenous communities can be directly attributed to the legacy of colonialism.

Dr Cynthia Maung, an ethnic Karen, fled her native Burma during the pro-democracy uprising of 1988 and set up the Mae Tao Clinic. Each year over 150,000 people are treated, mostly women waiting to give birth safely. In 2013, Dr Cynthia was awarded the Sydney Peace Prize. The Mae Tao Clinic currently also treats many survivors of violence from the recent military coup that began in 2021. The Myanmar military junta was born out of British colonial rule.

We believe in the importance of both

i=Change NGO partners often exist because of the legacies of colonialism, especially those that work with indigenous people in Australia and across the developing world. These NGOs continue to address the impacts of what was a profoundly arrogant worldview that destroyed lives, stripped communities and, in some cases, entire countries of their agency and wealth.

The Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation, for example, works to empower children in rural and remote communities with the basic skills to read and write that most of us take for granted. In some communities, illiteracy is as high as 70%. This should be a national shame. Such rates of illiteracy would not be the case if not for ongoing discrimination born out of ‘White Australia’ policies, which were a direct legacy of colonialism.

As the movements towards reconciliation gain traction, we must continue to ask ourselves how our beliefs and attitudes today contribute to social and structural inequalities – that are rooted in colonialism – and still impact indigenous, low-resource and migrant communities around.

Ultimately it is only through self-reflection and the courage to challenge our unconscious bias, can we move beyond our darkest instincts that often lead to separation and violence, to a far more inclusive future, where we harness each other’s wisdom, knowledge and strengths, to work together to address the great challenges of our time, that will ultimately impact us all.

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