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Welcome to the Human Race!

26 May 2007

Australian aborigines usually don’t get a mention in the Mex Files, but I ran across this tidbit buried in today’s news:

EXTRAORDINARY though it seems, it was not until 1967 that Australian Aborigines were recognised as citizens of their own country.

Before that they were classified as native wildlife, along with kangaroos and koalas.

This weekend Aborigines are converging on Canberra, the national capital, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of a referendum that led to the constitution being amended.

The anniversary is a reminder of the massive inequalities that still exist in housing, health, education, employment and life expectancy.

Until the referendum, Aborigines were not, officially, human beings. They were “flora and fauna”. They were confined to white-controlled reserves and forbidden to travel without special permission. They were not allowed in pubs, and were paid wages in meat and salt.

The aborigines are celebrating the occasion… or rather marking it. As badly as the Indigenous peoples of Mexico has had it, they’ve been citizens much longer than in the “advanced” countries, and “human” a hell of a lot longer.

Trivia time.

When did American Indians become U.S. citizens?

When did Canada give their native people the vote?

When did Mexico?

(answer: 1924, 1960 and 1813)

A tricker question. When did the native peoples become human?

May 29, 1537.

OK, I know that’s the Julian calendar, but still it’s worth celebrating.

Europeans were still coming to grips with the idea that the world was a lot bigger place than they thought. And, there was a lot of new stuff — or useful old stuff (like gold) they could use. Which required workers.

If the workers weren’t people, then they were beast of burden, and you didn’t worry too much about overworking an ox or a mule in those days.

So, based on a “convenient” reading of Romans 16:25-26

25 Now to him that is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which hath been kept in silence through times eternal,

26 but now is manifested, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, is made known unto all the nations unto obedience of faith:

(American Standard Version)

…the argument went basically, “If the Bible meant to include Americans among “all the nations,” Jesus would have waited for Christopher Columbus. HE didn’t so we can do what we damn well please.”

America’s first muckracker (and human rights activist) Bartelemo de las Casas, wasn’t satisfied with just sending out his well-researched documentation and factual reports (las Casas invented actuary science, to come up with the now unremarkable proof that abuse and malnutrition was bad for people’s health). He was still shuttling back and forth between Nueva Espagna and Italy (no internet in his day) well into his 90s to lobby the Pope for relief.

Paul III, for all his faults and limitations, looked at the Biblical argument, but he knew bullshit when he saw it. And, issued a papal bull, Sublimus Dei on May 29, 1537, recognizing the humanity of ALL people, and forbidding the enslavement of the indigenous peoples of the Americas (and, by extension, all people).

People still don’t pay heed to what Popes say, but sometimes they manage to get thing right.


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