We discriminate positively,
And your origin – that is the key
Which may unlock a chest
That has wealth manifest –
All depends on that family tree.
Recently I had to visit a government department. While there I was asked a number of questions by a public servant – a young woman. She proceeded to enter my answers to these questions into her computer. Many of the questions required either a yes or no. One of the questions was “Are you of aboriginal or Torres Strait ancestry?” – I answered: “I don’t know.” I then explained to the puzzled woman that I had done a thorough research into my family tree, and while uncovering most of my ancestors, that some of my Australian ancestors who had lived in the early years of the 19th century (in Australia), were untraceable and that therefore I could in no way be sure that I didn’t have an aboriginal ancestor or two. After some head scratching she eventually took this as a “No” and entered into her computer program this totally unproven “fact.”
Of course I am a native Australian, being 3rd generation, but apparently that doesn’t count. (In Australia native born Australians are indeed “natives” – but I digress.)
This got me thinking about the term “Aboriginal.” I do know the origin of many of my ancestors. They came originally from Ireland, Scotland and England. Based on the criterion that is applied to Australian Aboriginals – that they are descended from at least one ancestor who is descended from the original inhabitants of the continent, (this is a very grey area by the way) then I concluded that I am an aboriginal of Ireland, Scotland and England.
Of course I’m not sure whether some or all of these ancestor’s forebears may have originally come from Europe in the great migration of Celts and other peoples from central Europe a millennia and half or more ago, so perhaps I am also an aboriginal of Europe.
Ok, so I must qualify as aboriginal, but not (to my knowledge) as an aboriginal of Australia. It therefore follows that the question that the woman asked me should have been “Are you an Australian aboriginal?” rather than the general question “Are you an aboriginal?” since, as I have pointed out, I am an aboriginal by default, as indeed are all human beings on the face of the Earth – we are all aboriginals – of somewhere.
Personally I don’t believe in any form of racial discrimination, but that is another matter. I do intend writing to the relevant government department heads suggesting that they change the relevant part of the question to “Australian aboriginal.” (And they can’t get around this by changing “aboriginal” to “indigenous” (as most have already done) as we are all indigenous to somewhere as well.)