• The online confirmation service was advertised via social media. (Supplied)
An Indigenous education company offering to provide nationwide confirmation of Aboriginality certificates for $99 has been criticised as disrespectful of Indigenous culture by some sections of the community, while others have welcomed the service as much needed reform.
By
Ella Archibald-Binge

29 May 2017 - 12:56 PM  UPDATED 29 May 2017 - 3:52 PM

The Brisbane-based Institute of Indigenous Australia, chaired by Jermaine Alberts, launched the service earlier this year, prompting strong reaction on social media. 

"For several years IOIA has done confirmation of Aboriginality or Torres Strait Islander descent form on a very small scale," the Indigenous-owned organisation's website reads.

"However over the years IOIA would be continually contacted from different regions asking for the same service. Based on this need IOIA has expanded its services nationwide."

The service costs $99, is conducted via email, and still requires evidence (such as a statutory declaration from a qualified community referee) to meet the government's three pronged criteria for identifying as Indigenous, which state a person must:

  • Be of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent
  • Identify as Indigenous
  • Be accepted as Indigenous by the community in which you live

Metropolitan Land Council CEO Nathan Moran has slammed the service as disrespectful. 

"Our culture requires that we operate be it in clans, be it in family groups, be it in collective family groups known as nations, be it in cultural blocks as collective nations," Mr Moran told NITV News.

"So when I see someone claiming they can do it Australia-wide, they're not respecting their own culture and the culture of this country, and we should always operate from a cultural paradigm when confirming someone's identity."

Others, however, have praised the online service as a welcome alternative to the current confirmation process. 

'For a point I thought I'm not Aboriginal'

26-year-old Ivan Broome was asked to provide a confirmation of Aboriginality certificate last year, in order to study to become an Aboriginal Health Practitioner. 

"The process does need to change. It'll help everybody."

The Gurang man grew up in New South Wales, where he was always recognised as Aboriginal.

"People know straight away because they just look at my nose," he says jokingly. 

Estranged from his white father and Aboriginal mother, Ivan rarely interacted with his Gurang community in Bundaberg.  

 

For months he tried in vain to contact various organisations in Bundaberg about his confirmation. When no one returned his calls, he turned to his local community in Wollongong, where he felt "very welcomed".

But his application - complete with nine Indigenous referees - was rejected due to a lack of evidence, and Ivan was asked to refer back to his original community in Bundaberg. 

"For a point I thought I’m not Aboriginal," Ivan told NITV News.

"Because if my own local mob won’t answer me, or the one that I’ve been living with won’t acknowledge I’m Aboriginal, then I don’t know how I can become an Aboriginal health practitioner."

Ivan eventually found a copy of his confirmation certificate with a family member, but says he would "most definitely" have turned to the Institute of Indigenous Australia website if the option had been available. 

"Everything is word to mouth sort of thing, and it's who you know," he says.

"The process does need to change. It'll help everybody."

Online service eliminates factionalism, community politics

Academic Bronwyn Carlson says she doesn't see a problem with the online service, provided IOIA contact the applicant's community of origin to verify their identity, which is something the website suggests. 

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"It seems to me that it’s the same process that’s offline," she says. 

"People who’ve had difficulties with gaining a confirmation of Aboriginality for a range of reasons have suggested that this was a much easier process, and took out things like factionalism or community politics.

"Other people have suggested that this is selling our culture, selling identity – which indeed it’s not, because we can’t sell our culture via a confirmation of Aboriginality for one, but it’s not selling our identity either because you’re still required to meet the three-pronged definition."

The Institute of Indigenous Australia did not respond to NITV's requests for comment.