The Age of Exploration was perhaps a baby step towards modern-day globalization, but it was the beginning of a devastating few centuries for indigenous populations whose land was "discovered" and whose populations were treated as inferior and less-than-human. After enduring atrocity after atrocity at the hands of colonialists, then imperialists, then corporations and a government indifferent to their interests, indigenous people today are some of the most disadvantaged communities across the world.
Indigenous people across the world have one of the world's highest suicide rates and shortest life expectancies. From Brazil to Greenland to Australia to the United States, indigenous people live shorter lives and are much more likely to die by suicide. In Ontario, Canada, 11 of the 2,000 people-strong Attawapiskat First Nation tried to commit suicide in a single day.
Many of the issues plaguing indigenous communities can be traced back to colonialism. And though times have certainly changed, attitudes, especially ones steeped in bigotry, persist. In Australia, MP Pauline Hanson recently challenged what being an Aboriginal really means, as part of her campaign to repeal Australia's Racial Discrimination Act, according to Johnny Lieu at Mashable.
"What defines an Aboriginal?" Hanson asked. "If you marry an Aboriginal, you can be classified as an Aboriginal. Or if the community or the elders accept you into that community, you can be defined as an Aboriginal. And that's not good enough, because then if you make a comment about it, well what are you — are you an Aboriginal, or not an Aboriginal?"
Hanson said there should be a big debate about what Aboriginal means, and essentially echoed the criticism from the right of political correctness in the U.S.
"To say that you're humiliated or intimidated, where does it stop? I think that people need to toughen up a bit. I think we've all become so precious, we've stopped freedom of speech to have a say, to have an opinion," she said. "I remember when I was a kid, 'sticks and stones may break your bones.'"
Her comments angered many Aboriginals, including Ryan Griffen, creator of Cleverman, a TV show about an indigenous Australian superhero. "Another white person telling us what it means to be Aboriginal," he tweeted. "It don't work like that."
Griffen then launched the hashtag #DefineAboriginal, asking his fellow indigenous Australians to share their experiences as First Nations people. Many touched on the everyday acts of casual racism they've faced and the effects of centuries of systematic oppression.
But some also used the hashtag to share the pride in their struggle for equality and the progress they've made.
As the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock persist in the face of violent backlash and political indifference, and as white nationalism continues to rise in the west, #DefineAboriginal is an apt reminder of the inequalities indigenous people continue to face today, in Australia and across all continents.