Indigenous Allegiances and Olympic Dramas: Settler Colonialism Wins Again (or does it?)

Friday August 3, 2012

By Dina Gilio-Whitaker

After the Australian Aborigine boxer Damien Hooper wore a T-shirt bearing the image of the Aborigine flag into the ring, news reports claimed that he apologized for his actions (although we were only told he apologized and have yet to hear his exact words). One wonders why he would go to such lengths to make what was obviously a political statement and then turn around and apologize for it, but I don't begrudge him his apology because he probably felt he'd come too far to get himself disqualified now. And no doubt he was pressured into it. He is, after all, Australia's best hope for a gold.

But the incident suggests something else entirely: settler colonialism as an Olympic event. Despite all the rhetoric about the Olympics not being the place for politics, there is nothing apolitical about the Olympics, especially if you are an athlete from an indigenous culture (let's be more specific: from an indigenous nation) and you wish to be associated with your indigenous nation before your colonial dominator, in this case Australia.

For an indigenous person, this is one of the biggest problems of the settler colonial state; it demands allegiance to itself above all others (for more in-depth information about what settler colonialism is see American Settler Colonialism 101 and 102). Australia is one of the world's foremost settler colonial states because of its genocidal history against its aborigine population. Damien Hooper clearly understands his history. But more than that, it would seem that he identifies himself as an Aborigine before he identifies as Australian. And that's a problem because in effect, Damien Hooper is forced to publicly deny his indigeneity (even apologize for it) in deference to his citizenship in the settler state. This is settler colonialism in action.

I call Settler colonialism an Olympic event because the organizational structure of the games fails to recognize the existence of indigenous nations. Nowadays, even the United Nations recognizes indigenous nations (even if in a somewhat marginal way) with the passage of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007. How long will it take before the Olympic Committee catches on and opens the games to the nations of the Aborigine, Maori, Lakota, Iroquois, Cree, etc.?


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