No matter how you look at it, the key fact in this country’s history since the 18th century is dispossession. On the other hand none of the current possessors/inhabitants is going anywhere. That’s the paradox we have inherited and have to deal with.
And then the strangers came…
On Sunday I watched the excellent episode of The First Australians dealing with Western Australia: Jandamarra, the revolting A O Neville, Moore River and so on. Here were events from my grandparents’ generation, then from my parents’ generation and indeed my own lifetime. A fitting climax to the episode, even allowing for the disappointments one feels at times, was the Kevin Rudd apology of 2008.
In Redfern February 2008 – I was there.
Then last night ABC1 showed Coniston.
In 1928, following the murder of a white dingo trapper, Central Australia would witness the last known massacre of it’s indigenous people. With over one hundred killed during a series of punitive expeditions, now known as the Coniston Massacre, many lived to tell of the wholesale slaughter of innocent people. For the first time those who survived this bloody episode get to tell their side of the story in this new documentary on the Coniston Massacre co-produced by PAW Media and Rebel Films.
Not a single academic historian in sight – just the descendants of survivors or, indeed, actual survivors in some cases. Compelling stuff, and all happening in my parents’ lifetime. Just as my mother’s stories of the same years in another part of the country command my respect so, more so even, do these.
But of course Australia is far from the only country whose history is rooted in dispossession or where that dispossession has been followed by greater or lesser death of peoples and cultures and languages. So to North America, and the USA in particular. Last night NITV surprised with the showing of a 2012 German documentary, Bury My Heart in Dresden.
A Catholic cemetery in Dresden. A grey and weathered gravestone protrudes from the snow. At its foot stands a small American flag. The inscription on the old stone reveals who was laid to rest here in 1914: Edward Two Two, Sioux chief. Strange. How did one of the Sioux Indians, whose home is North America, end up in Dresden of all places? And why was he buried here?
Bettina Renner pursues this question, rummaging in archives and travelling to South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Reservation to visit Edward Two Two’s old homeland. Edward Two Two came to Germany as part of one of the so-called “human zoos”. In those days, people who fulfilled the local audience’s desire for the exotic would be taken from all over the world and presented in elaborately choreographed shows. The participants, who were sometimes paraded through town, would attract a lot of attention as soon as they arrived. Edward Two Two initially came with his wife and a granddaughter to Hagenbeck, based in Hamburg, later moving on to Dresden’s Sarrasani circus. At the time, Indians were the biggest attraction. Living in tepees in front of the circus tent, they were required to wear a feathered headdress and traditional clothing at all times as well as dance and sing. Flocking past, the large audiences loved them. They corresponded to a common, romanticised image of the Indians. Yet in their homeland the reality had long been far different. From their free life on the prairie, the Native Americans were forced into reservations and subjected to a programme of re-education. The consequences were fatal; hunger and disease were rife. How are things today in the reservation Edward Two Two left behind for Germany at the beginning of the last century? Bettina Renner embarks upon a journey, meeting descendants of Edward Two Two. Gradually she comes closer to the answer of why the Lakota Sioux Edward Two Two, who in real life was never a chief, was determined that his final resting place be in Dresden soil.
“Chief” Edward Two Two of the Latoka Sioux
And dispossession takes many guises.
Click to see who, what and where.
Dispossession always comes at a cost – to the dispossessors as well as to the dispossessed.