Draped in a traditional Maori cloak, Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern delivered a speech at the 2022 Harvard University Commencement on May 26; a few days later, Linda Burney, was sworn in as the new minister for Indigenous Australians, making her the first Aboriginal woman to take up the post. The fact that a rousing round of worldwide applause greeted both women is noteworthy.
In contrast to the international attention paid to the plight of Native Americans in the United States and Canada, similar happenings to the indigenous populations in the former British colonies of Australia and New Zealand have long been overlooked, but mostly, they suffered the same fate: mass killings and cultural eradication.
In Australia, before the British colonization took hold in 1788, over 750,000 Aboriginals lived on this land. According to the Creative Spirits Indigenous resource, by 1901 the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population had diminished to some 117,000. The aftermath of the New Zealand Wars (1845-72), sometimes called the Land Wars, saw the Maori alienated from their land. And they went on to suffer decades of destruction and despoliation at the hands of the colonists. Combined with the impact of introduced diseases, Maori population numbers dropped to 40,000 in the 1890s from 200,000, or more, when Captain James Cook first charted New Zealand and the Great Barrier Reef of Australia on his ship HMB Endeavour in 1770.
Then there’s the element of cultural genocide in the currently defined Western hemisphere. In 2021, large mass graves of children were discovered at former indigenous residential schools in Canada; the youngest victim was only 3. Media reports stated that from 1883 to 1998, nearly 150,000 indigenous children in today’s Canada were forcibly separated from their families and sent to government-funded, church-run boarding schools in an attempt to assimilate them. Similar policies were implemented in Australia and New Zealand, where the government placed Aboriginal children in institutions or foster homes. They were encouraged to speak only English and to sever all cultural and psychological ties with their own ethnic groups.
Today, the situation has changed, but the human rights problem of the indigenous peoples in those four countries still exists. New Zealand was long considered a forerunner in the protection of indigenous peoples, both economically and culturally, but in 2019, more than 40 percent of homeless people in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, were Maori; as of March 2021, the Maori unemployment rate reached 10.8 percent, much higher than the national average of 4.9 percent.
When the UN adopted the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007, only four countries voted against it: the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand. It’s rather unfortunate to see these countries among those attacking China’s human rights protection in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, claiming that China has committed “genocide” against the Uygur ethnic group.
Anyone who cares about the truth can discredit this story. According to household registration materials from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), in 1761, the Uygur population was 250,000 and increased to 1.57 million in the early 20th century. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the first national population census was conducted in 1953; there were 3.61 million Uygurs. The results of the seventh census released in 2021 show that the Uygur population had grown to 11.62 million.
The figures and facts speak for themselves. Considering their own historical mistakes, perhaps it’s time for countries like the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand to change their tune and tone down the rhetoric.