To be fair.
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My name is Shaarn Hayward and I am an Indigenous Australian. I am a descendant of the Wiradjuri People and grew up on the land of the Biripi People. When I introduce myself to someone I’m meeting for the first time I often say that I am an Indigenous Australian. “You don’t look it,” is the common response.
You see, even though I am of Indigenous descent, my skin is fair.
It has been said that 1 in 4 Indigenous Australians have non-Indigenous DNA as well. This is because of a number of reasons, but within my family it is because my Great-Great Grandmother was taken from her traditional home, family and culture, forced into slavery on a cattle station for European settlers. It was then that she met and married my Great-Great Grandfather who was originally from England. He had witnessed the mistreatment she was enduring and after complaining to their boss about this, she was given to him as payment.
They consequently fell in love and had 13 children together.
Their names have been changed numerous times through fear of their children being classified as “half castes” and taken away from them. A “half caste” is a racially discriminating term for an Indigenous person that is also of non-Indigenous descent; a ‘fair skinned’ Indigenous person. Other terms of discrimination I have come across are “part-Aboriginal” and even “quadroon”.
My family hid their Indigenous roots and their culture. In large part, this is why I am so keen to speak out about my Indigenous heritage.
I know that to be Aboriginal is something that cannot be shown through the tone of your skin but shines through your passion and spirit; it’s something that is held deep within.
You see, I am one of the lucky ones. Not only am I aware of my cultural background, I’m also aware of my family’s story. Not all Indigenous Australians are lucky enough to know who or where they come from because of the shameful parts of our country’s history.
I am also lucky enough to be born in a time where Indigenous People can be proud. Today, as we saw with the push to reconciliation, we have the support of mainstream society.
A more recent example is the national discussion around recognising the first people of Australia in the Constitution. It’s something that my Great-Great Grandmother would never have dreamed possible.
So next time you meet an Indigenous Australian who happens to have fair skin, before you doubt their Aboriginality and say “but you’re white”, please take the time to reflect on the history and the pain behind why this is a fact. Try to understand that spirit and culture are what marks us as Indigenous, not the colour of our skin.
Share your voice with the UNICEF Australia Young Ambassadors here of via their facebook page.
About the author: Shaarn Hayward is a member of the Biripi people, and is one of UNICEF Australia's young Indigenous representatives in 2012/13. Shaarn is currently studying a BA Law at UNSW and is passionate about advocating for Indigenous child rights. She has been involved as a youth representative at the NCIE National Indigenous Youth Forum on Constitutional Rights, March 2012, and also as a Nura Gili Student Ambassador for the UNSW Indigenous Centre.