Wednesday, March 09, 2016

A welcome to APAM

Mana Wahine - from Okareka
I've been in Brisbane for the biennial APAM, which - while the "M" does indeed stand for "Market" - is an extraordinary opportunity to meet up with indigenous Australian performers and producers, see some of their work, hear what they are planning, and generally breathe in the atmosphere so crucial to programming Origins.  This year was particularly rich for me, as APAM had reached out to other groups of indigenous people around the world, creating links with Maori, Canadian First Nations and Inuit, and Melanesia.  It was wonderful to meet people from Canada who were new to me - Ryan Cunningham from Native Earth, Starr Muranko from Raven Spirit, Kathleen Merritt from Ivaluarjuk - and to see Maori work alongside the Australian, particularly the wonderful Mana Wahine by Okareka (pictured).   The opening ceremony was an exchange between different indigenous groups - not unlike what we do at Origins, but given a different resonance because it took place on the lands of indigenous Australians.  At its start, there was what I have come to think of as a traditional Welcome to Country.

But apparently the Welcome to Country isn't so traditional after all.  In the week of APAM, there was a Guardian article which talked about how this "tradition" was created, some 40 years ago.  At the time, this must have been incredibly important.  Indigenous people had not long moved out of the category of "flora and fauna" in Australia, so anything that went even a small way towards acknowledging their traditional custodianship of the land was a huge step.  But, I was told by indigenous producer Nadine McDonald-Dowd, the format that this has now taken is a long way from what in fact happened between indigenous groups historically.  "We didn't welcome people to our country until those people had asked permission to be on our country", she says.  Put like that, you begin to see that there is still a long way to go.  The Welcome to Country may acknowledge traditional ownership, but it places the responsibility on the indigenous people to articulate that acknowledgment, and it assumes the right of other people to be welcomed to the land - even if they have done nothing to earn it.  Not even asked.  I'm not sure that we can do much to shift this paradigm from our space in London - we are welcoming indigenous people as visitors, rather than expecting them to be our hosts.  But something should be done to make non-indigenous people work within the framework of welcome - we can't just expect indigenous people to be nice to us because we happen to be present on their ancestral lands.

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