Indigenous Australians mean business

Business isn’t about abandoning culture. It’s about expanding our cultures. Embracing new things and making them our own. People who say business means assimilation perpetuate the myth of the noble savage.

By Nyunggai Warren Mundine AO, Executive Chairman of the Yaabubiin Institute for Disruptive Thinking 

Recently I began hosting a new Sky News program, Mundine Means Business, featuring Indigenous-owned businesses from across Australia.

Business isn’t something Australians associate with Indigenous people. It’s usually disadvantage, welfare, remote communities with “no jobs” and disparity.  The disparity is real and exists for one reason: too many Indigenous people don’t participate in the real economy. Lack of economic participation underpins all Indigenous disadvantage.

For most people, economic participation means a job. But setting up new businesses is also critical, particularly in remote and regional Australia, where Indigenous people disproportionately live. There’ve always been Indigenous business-owners. But we’ve seen a lift in new business creation in recent years, driven by initiatives like procurement parity.

Many who watched the show were surprised to know there are Indigenous people succeeding in business. Many Indigenous people contacted me to tell me about enterprises they know or are involved with who want to be on the show.

And – like clockwork – the leftist keyboard warriors were out complaining that business is evil; that the show is about making Indigenous people assimilate, become “white” or “urbanised”.

What a load of rubbish.

Indigenous Australians have always done business. Even before colonisation, first nations people traded with each other; some even with South East Asia. They forged trade routes and used land and sea as an economic resource. These activities looked a lot different to business today but were based on the same principle we see in every community, time and location. Using the resources around you to support your family; sustain your community; be self-sufficient.

After colonisation we did business battling colonists and governments who tried to stop us through land dispossession and segregation laws which restricted our economic participation. Since the 1970s, the battle has been with sit-down money.

The idea white people have some monopoly on business and black people who engage in commerce are assimilating is a poisonous lie.

It’s  amusing those who peddle this lie reject capitalism as “Western” but embrace socialist economics and cultural Marxism, which are also products of Western thought. Tweeting about the evils of capitalism on your smartphone from an inner city café is an utterly Western thing to do.

People who say business means assimilation perpetuate the myth of the noble savage – that Indigenous Australians have a natural state, uncorrupted by civilization, where innate human goodness has been preserved. Shaming Indigenous people by saying business means rejecting culture is racial bullying.

Business isn’t about abandoning culture. It’s about expanding our cultures. Embracing new things and making them our own.

Years ago I met Jean-Marie Tjibaou, a leader of the Kanak independence movement in New Caledonia who told me something I’ve never forgotten. He said indigenous peoples aren’t museum pieces to be frozen in a pre-colonial way of life. He wanted his people to embrace the modern world and adapt to new ways. Far from being a threat to their culture, this was essential to its survival. He wrote, “We are not survivors of prehistory … but men of flesh and blood.”

Great Indigenous leaders have known this. In 1938, Aboriginal leaders, Jack Patten and Bill Ferguson, petitioned the government for full citizens’ rights. They said “We do not wish to be … ‘preserved’, like the koala bears, as exhibits… We ask you to teach our people to live in the Modern Age, as modern citizens … Give our children the same chances as your own, and they will do as well as your children!”

The first Mundine Means Business episode featured a report from north east Arnhem Land where the Gumatj clan have opened the first Aboriginal owned bauxite mine. You won’t find a group more steeped in traditional culture. And clan leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu is proud they’re engaged in business.

In the 1800s, Japan’s Emperor Meiji actively embraced modernity, adopting the best the world had to offer. Not so as to be subsumed by the West but the opposite – to make Japan independent and the equal of any world power. The Meiji Restoration saw Japan emulate and often surpass the rest of the world in virtually all aspects of life, while maintaining a unique culture.

After my show, particular scorn was directed at Indigenous Affairs Minister Scullion who said in an interview that Indigenous business has a great brand. Detractors said he was cheapening Indigenous people; treating us like a commodity. That’s also rubbish.

Brand signifies reputation. Think about the brands of nations and regions across the world. Italy. France. Japan. Good things come to mind when we think of them. We want what they offer. Indigenous business should aspire to the same – so that the first things that come to mind when people think of Indigenous people aren’t poverty and disadvantage. But quality, success and prosperity.

Warren Mundine is host of Mundine Means Business, Sundays at  8pm on Sky News Live. The program returns in late January 2018. This article was first published in the Daily Telegraph and Townsville Bulletin on 18th December 2017.

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