Building Bridges Not Battle Lines

I recently read of Stan Grant, a journalist and writer, in a career spanning more than thirty years. But he is first a Wiradjuri man, of the Aboriginal people of central New South Wales, Australia.

I tuned in to watch the video of Grant’s explanation for stepping down from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) as the current international affairs analyst. He left the ABC not just because of the almost-constant racism directed at him over his career, but also for a rest and to examine his role in the media, feeling he has been a part of a growing problem. The racism hurled at him escalated, his family threatened, after he was invited to provide commentary during the coronation of King Charles. Grant expressed his concern at the Australian prime minister so easily pledging the country’s allegiance to King Charles, without any reflection on their history with Great Britain. Grant called on the memory of “the declaration of martial law on [Indigenous people] of Australia almost 200 years ago in the name of the Crown.” It was called an exterminating war, Grant says. “But we are still here.” Not one member of the ABC executive spoke up in support of the vile racism flung at Grant, but have since voiced their apology after loud voices across the country expressed their support of Grant. One man has been charged with online threats of serious harm against Grant and his family.

“My soul is hurting,” Grant confessed. “So, if your aim was to hurt me, you have succeeded.” But don’t think Grant is down and out. He is finding solace to rebuild and when he comes back to his post, he suspects the racist abuse will come again, but he will meet it with love. He apologized to his tormenters, for what he must have done to evoke such hatred. For he is not only responsible for his own actions, but for the actions of others against him, as is the code of the Wiradjuri, of his people. He quoted Martin Luther King Jr. who said, “We will wear you down with our capacity to love.”

I am deep into my research of the fur trade and my ancestor Nahoway’s role in it. I immediately thought of the Omushkego people when I focused on Grant’s words and listened to his voice. Andrew Graham, a servant of the Hudson’s Bay Company wrote of the Omushkego mostly in criticism but recorded the following observation of those they called the Cree, which parallels how Grant describes being Wiradjuri. “Nature has implanted into the rudest savages some principles of humanity and association and parental affection, perhaps in a stronger degree than civilized nations are endowed with. The Natives of Hudson’s Bay are courteous, benevolent, humane, and kind, relieving the necessities of one another to the utmost of their power, whether by council, food, or clothing,” wrote Andrew Graham in his Observations on Hudson’s Bay filed with the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives. Further, Samuel Hearne, chief factor of Fort Prince of Wales, wrote in 1780 of his Dene friend Matonabbee, saying “He is a man with scrupulous adherence to truth and honesty, and a benevolence and universal humanity to all the human race.” A similar character to that of the Wiradjuri people. This is not by chance.

I think of Gandhi, who lived his life in the pursuit of truth and nonviolence, who spoke of love. Gandhi led the nonviolent Salt March in 1930 India, to defy British policy and the tax on salt, a tax that harmed the poorest among them, a march that saw 60,000+ persons imprisoned. I think of the Freedom Riders in 1961 United States, who climbed aboard buses to travel the South, quietly and peacefully claiming their place at “whites only” lunch counters and washrooms, to have equal rights in transportation. Their bus was bombed in Alabama, and when the Freedom Riders rushed from the bus, they were viciously attacked by white supremacists with lead pipes and baseball bats, while local police turned away from them. Those seeking positive change strive to do so with respect and nonviolence, yet what are they met with.

Stan Grant’s career has been about illuminating his Aboriginal roots and shining the light on Indigenous issues in Australia and globally. “Don’t mistake our love for weakness,” Grant warned. He comes to his role as a journalist with yindyamarra, meaning respect in the Wiradjuri language. “I speak of truth, not grievance,” he wrote. He is concerned for the role he plays in the media, a media that is “too often the poison in the bloodstream of our society,” Grant wrote. The media, no matter its form, has a responsibility to build bridges with the information it provides, not to fuel the battle lines, Grant explained; something we are all too familiar with.