Noel Pearson has launched a blistering tirade against the Australian public, governments and media over “selective outrage” that was vented over the Don Dale abuses but not against decisions that dispossess children, such as the attempt to shut down his educational program of direct instruction.
Speaking at the Garma festival before a panel on constitutional recognition, he also joined calls for a settlement between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia.
Pearson, the founder of the Cape York Institute, said the “much maligned” Direct Instruction literacy and numeracy program being trialled in Cape York was working.
“And yet I have gone through eight weeks of absolutely bureaucratic and political bastardry that seeks to dispossess children like this from their future. And not a word of outrage. Not a word of support.”
He had earlier shown a video of a four-year-old girl reading to her teacher.
“These are the thrills of my life”, he said, of receiving the video, and claimed every student of the Cape York institute was on track to be reading by grade one.
“Children like her, not brought up as my own in a house full of a thousand books, not brought up with privilege and advantage, not brought up with the English language, but she will read and gain a great power,” he said.
“But our outrage is selective. And the media has torn strips off us, and they’ve torn me a new one. And all to no unity in relation to the future of a new one.”
After teachers were evacuated twice from a school in the Aurukun, the largest of Pearson’s “lighthouse schools”, the situation escalated and the Queensland government considered a full takeover.
A government review and calls for the Cape York Aboriginal Australian Academy (CYAAA) to be stripped of the school contract and for the scrapping of the controversial US education program followed.
On Saturday, Pearson said the Senate committee on Indigenous affairs, which inquired and reported on Direct Instruction, should “hang its head in shame” for “rubbishing” the educational system.
Pearson drew comparisons with the reaction this week to abuses inside Northern Territory juvenile detention centres.
“Of course this misery has been going on for decades. And we have this enormous fund of sympathy in relation to the problems,” he said.
“But we under this tent oppose the very policies which have the best chance of diverting the kids from alienation from their mothers’ bosoms. We’ve got to support the reconstruction of families.”
He accused media organisations including the ABC, Fairfax and the Guardian, of being calculated to the detriment of Aboriginal people and tearing down “every good thing”.
“The white Australians that support us on the one hand oppose us in the policies we make,” he said.
Pearson said supporters who “cling to the old ideas” were a “stumbling block” and he urged them to “get out of the way”.
“We have hit the rock bottom on this debate. Absolute rock bottom, because we’re now conjuring up mysterious forces, as if hungry children don’t have irresponsible adults around them. A hungry child is not hungry because of some alien presence. She is hungry because some adult has failed in their responsibility.”
Pearson made his address as he opened a key forum panel on constitutional recognition, and joined calls for a settlement arrangement.
He called for a synthesising of the treaty and constitutional reform arguments.
“If we think they are somehow separate agendas, this whole agenda will fail,” he said. “My synthesis is simply that constitutional recognition provides the hook that enables agreements to be made, and a Makarratta, a national settlement, to be made.”
Pat Dodson also spoke of a post-recognition settlement.
“If there is no preparedness to do that, we are all wasting our time and the tax payers have been dudded,” he said.
Dodson said there had been a “lack of a dialogue, the lack of a real understanding, the lack of a preparedness to really listen to what it is Indigenous people want”.
“It’s not some concession to the natives, it is about this nation coming to terms with its dark, desperate and miserable history, but yet being able to celebrate the very things that Noel spoke about – the British tradition, multiculturalism, and the Indigenous heritage that interwine.”
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner, Mick Gooda, said constitutional recognition had to be done right, rather than right now. It would “reset the relationship” between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
READ: The Gaurdian