In the first instance, when referring to my identity I would say "Arrernte Australian". "Arrernte" is my tribal background and comes from three branches of my father's extended family. "Australian" is from my mother's side. My father wasn't considered Australian until he was 17 years old, so I find the term "First Australians" particularly irksome and historically inaccurate. Aboriginal people were the last people to be considered "Australian" in this country, and even the last people to be considered "people" and to gloss over that by using the term "First Australians" washes history clean. Plus it's a term used in a Seekers song which I find irritating and which Pauline Hanson was once filmed singing...
I've digressed. At this point in time, a lot of our community organisations are dropping the term "Indigenous"; which came into popular usage when Amanda Vanstone was the Minister for Indigenous Affairs (amongst other ministries, all of which suffered) and returning to "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander" with the acronym "ATSI". We've talked about doing the same at work. The logic behind this change back is twofold and understandable:
- There are two broader groups of Indigenous people of Australia and to homogenise these distinct groups by using an umbrella term like "Indigenous" is limiting and offensive
- The term "Indigenous" itself is nondescript meaning "native to the land". Rednecks like to appropriate the term stating that as they were born here so they're native as well and therefore indigenous. "Aborigine", on the other hand means "an original inhabitant of a country or region who has been there from the earliest known times" therefore making the distinction "original" where the term "indigenous" does not.
I do like many of our regional collective terms eg: Koorie, Goori, Palawa, Murri etc and am generally happy to be referred to by them for convenience, but being Arrernte and coming from a region where we don't use collective terms apart from greater tribal groupings, I am technically none of those. These terms, however, are all derived from language and therefore come from our own entomologies which is preferable to the imposed "Aboriginal".
When referring to myself, though, and when not using "Arrernte", I tend to use the term "Black". Why? Because in this country the term "Black" carries a lot of political weight. It is a term that we're reclaimed. After years of removal policies and stolen generations based on the tone of one's skin and their alleged blood quanta, to state that you are "Black" regardless of what your actual tone is is defiant. It reinforces otherness in the face of assimilation policies proudly. People fear that otherness, as has been illustrated by some media columns, when what they should do is embrace it and recognise that it is important and something to celebrate.
I don't use the term "person/woman of colour" for myself because, from an Aboriginal perspective, this phrase does not carry the same political weight and indeed, to be "of colour" to me is to also be comfortable with people defining my background by those old blood quanta percentages, which I reject. Additionally, I also quite like other reclaimed terms such as "mob" whilst also referring to non-Indigenous people as "non-mob". That a term used pejoratively when we were under the Flora and Fauna Act can now be a colloquial reclaimed collectivist term is something I quite like.
Now here's the thing: this is not a how-to guide when defining people's backgrounds. As I have stated earlier, we are not homogenous, and whilst I've stated and defined why I like and dislike various terms, other people do not feel the same way. And nor should they. It's up to the individual, the family, the community to define what they are most comfortable with and for others to respect that. Too many times I have seen non-Indigenous people state what the preferred terms for Indigenous people are based on what they have been told at one point or what they assume from their gathered knowledge, and I have shuddered at what they have come up with. Don't tell; ask! Then go from there. You can bet after years of being defined by the government we have some very strong opinions.
EDIT: I have been asked questions re: Flora and Fauna Act, and fair enough too. I have not published these questions. I am referring to state Acts such as the one that existed in NSW and mentioned by Linda Burney in her maiden speech, but have worded this badly. In light of this, I have asked them to remove this line in the Daily Life version to avoid confusion.