Exploring native rights worldwide 

Organizers of a Feb. 21 workshop at Salish Kootenai College (SKC) in Pablo plan to span the gaps between indigenous cultures in North America and Australia. The “Honoring Indigenous Rights: A Cross Cultural Conversation” workshop features education leaders from western Montana, as well as representatives from two Australian universities who will address reconciliation efforts and higher-education opportunities for that country’s 350,000 Aborigines and native Torres Strait Islanders.

The program will be broken into two parts. A morning session will deal with native populations and upper-level learning, while an evening session will explore ways communities can bridge their cultural differences. The event is sponsored by Salish Kootenai College, The University of Montana’s Practical Ethics Center, the Salish and Kootenai People’s Center, and Neighbors, a Flathead Reservation nonprofit group formed in 1993 to improve relations between Indians and non-Indians.

Featured speakers include Edward Spence, an ethics professor at Charles Sturt University in New South Wales, Australia; Howard Harris, who teaches at the University of South Australia and studies how multinational corporations deal with indigenous populations; SKC President Joe McDonald; Henrietta Mann and Kate Shanley from UM’s Native American Studies Department; and Practical Ethics Center Director Deni Elliott, who is researching how indigenous cultures are treated in Australia and the United States.

As in the United States, native peoples in Australia were overrun by white settlers who expanded their domain through colonization. The ensuing cultural upheaval is still being played out through disputes over land and religious rights, economic advancement, and access to education. The continent of Australia is nearly the same size as the United States, but only has about 19 million people living within its borders. Australia’s first inhabitants were the Aborigines, whom anthropologists say migrated from Southeast Asia nearly 40,000 years ago. The British declared Australia as its colony in the late 1700s, an action that triggered land grabs and other forms of cultural genocide.

Like African Americans and American Indians in the United States, Australian Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders rebelled in the 1960s in an effort to regain their rights. Their efforts in Australia in many ways paid off, and the nation remains in the midst of a state-sponsored drive to repair the rifts with the indigenous population. The Aborigines say they’re finally getting at least some of their sovereignty back.

Next week’s activities, which are free and open to the public, will take place in SKC’s Michel Building. For more details, call 675-4800 or 644-2468.

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