A prominent Indigenous elder has been ‘re-traumatised’ and has accused an Australian government committee of racism after he was asked to prove his ancestry.
Uncle Jack Charles said he was shocked after a ‘distressing’ phone call from a Stolen Generations Advisory Committee (SGAC) staff member demanded proof of his First Nations heritage to receive a second reparation payment of $80,000.
The award-wining Aboriginal actor, activist and musician received the first $20,000 instalment under the Stolen Generations Reparation scheme without having to prove his heritage.
In an interview on Melbourne’s ABC Radio Drive program on Friday, Mr Charles said the committee worker told him proof of ‘Aboriginality’ was needed after a number of people were falsely claiming to be Indigenous.
‘The point of fact here is it’s me they’re talking to,’ Mr Charles told host Mary Gearin.
‘I’m a well-known Aboriginal … I’m a man of many nations – it’s been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am Aboriginal.
‘It strikes me that they can’t differentiate between people taking advantage of the system and the likes of myself.’
The Wiradjuri, Boon Warrung, Dja Dja Wurrung, Woiwurrung and Yorta Yorta man has traced his heritage back to his ‘five times great-grandfather’ Mannalargenna.
The First Nations activist was the first elder to speak at Victoria’s Yoorrook Justice Commission and the first Indigenous recipient of a Lifetime Achievement award from Victoria’s Green Room Awards.
He also received an Australian Council of the Arts Red Ochre Award for most-outstanding Indigenous artist in 2019 and was honoured as the Victorian Senior of the Year in 2015.
Mr Charles said he has sat on a panel to chose the state’s NAIDOC award winners and is even featured in the national NAIDOC award promotions alongside Archie Roach and other prominent Indigenous figures.
‘It’s been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am Aboriginal,’ Mr Charles said.
The Victorian Government opened the reparations package on March 31 to help address the trauma and suffering caused by the forced removal of Aboriginal children from their families, community, culture, identity and language.
The Stolen Generations Reparations Package website does not make any mention of having to prove Indigenous heritage to receive compensation.
Applicants do not have to provide proof of their removal and search of government records can be done on their behalf if permission is given.
The Department of Justice and Community Safety said onus is placed on the government rather than applicants.
‘We fully understand that the process of seeking reparations and redress may be confronting and re-traumatising for members of the Stolen Generation,‘ said a spokesman for the Department of Justice and Community Safety
‘That’s why we worked closely with Community to design Victoria’s program to be culturally sensitive and for the onus to be placed on government rather than applicants to do the work in ascertaining if someone is a member of the Stolen Generation.
‘The Victorian Stolen Generations Reparations Scheme has to ascertain that any applicant is an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person under the program guidelines.’
Australians were outraged at the committee for demanding Mr Charles prove his ancestry, which could have been avoided by a simple internet search.
Proud Nira illim bulluk man of the Taungurung Nation Marcus Stewart said he was appalled by the demand and tweeted: ‘I have no words for how truly horrific this is.’
Another user commented: ‘Bemuses me that people don’t know who Uncle Jack is – let alone if you work at SGAC.
‘Demonstrates just how many people are not curious or engaged with the world around them. Also just very poor administrative decision making to not undergo some basic internet research.’
The 78-year-old previously had his heritage questioned in 2012 when the Australia Council, the federal government’s arts funding body, demanded he prove his eligibility for a grant to write a book.
Mr Charles said he was baffled by the latest experience and said he did not understand why anyone would pretend to be one Australia’s first people.
‘I think it’s particularly and particularly racist against the First Nations people,’ he said.
‘Why would any white person want to be an Aboriginal? It’s too difficult to be an Aboriginal.
‘Have a look at what I’m struggling through right now – hitting 79 in September and I am still being bedevilled with this and perplexed.
‘I have been re-traumatised with this very questioning of who I am.’