Patty Mills, Spurs and the Stolen Generations of Australian Children
By Alan Gilbert, Ph.D, Professor of Democratic Theory at the University of Denver
June 16, 2014, Denver – In the third quarter of the Spurs’ vanquishing of the Heat Sunday night, Patty Mills launched beautiful arching three point shots. Small, 5’11”, he outhustles others. After Kawhi Leonard, the series’ most valuable player and breakout star, he was also a great contributor.
The Spurs have the most international team in basketball. They speak many languages (Manu Ginobili communicates with Tiago Splitter in Spanish and with Marco Belinelli in Italian; Tony Parker (Belgian/French) and Boris Diaw often speak French to each other; Mills, an indigenous Australian and Aron Baynes, also an Australian, have their own dialect; even Tim Duncan is from the US Virgin Islands. Greg Popovich spoke about Mabo Day for aboriginals in early June at a team meeting and said something of what it meant to Mills.
Looking into multicultural heritage, discarding racism, uniting the team, that is part of Pop’s wonder as a coach (he has now won 5 NBA championships).
“Popovich has long espoused the virtues of an international roster, not merely because the players have a diverse set of skills but also because having them around enhances his own life. Popovich, who was born to a Serbian father and a Croatian mother, takes great pleasure, he said, in learning about his players’ lives and backgrounds. On road trips, the Spurs visit museums together.
‘I think it’s just a respect for letting them know you understand they’re from another place,’ Popovich said, adding, ‘We all grew up differently.’
Popovich, who majored in Soviet studies at the Air Force Academy, draws on his past experiences when he interacts with players, and it goes beyond quizzing them on world affairs. When Hedo Turkoglu and Rasho Nesterovic were Spurs teammates several years ago, Popovich was capable of conversing with them in broken Serbian.”
Popovich is the anti-(the original) Bear Bryant or Al Campanis or Donald Sterling…
Mabo Day was a long time coming:
“In 1992, Eddie Mabo, a Torres Strait Islander, won a land-rights case against the government, which had dismissed indigenous land claims as being on empty land. Five years later, the National Inquiry findings were issued and the government declared National Sorry Day to commemorate the Stolen Generations, though it was not until 2008 that a prime minister formally apologized.”
Australian history parallels the American stealing of indigenous lands – Denver, for example, is built on the Sand Creek Massacre and driving the Cheyennes and Arapahos out of Colorado – the Israeli illegal Occupation of Palestinian territories and “transfer,” and the Chinese ethnic cleansing in Tibet. America has done the genocide, and like Australia, now recognizes to some extent what it did, and takes timid steps toward healing; Israel is in the hourly act of criminality as is China, and the founding amnesia that surrounds these processes is thick, pathetic.
In the third quarter, the announcers even discussed Patrick Mills’ aboriginal heritage and his pride in it. What they did not discuss is the genocide against aboriginals committed by the Australian state, which has only come to apologize for it – National Sorry Day – in the last 15 years…
Yvonne, Mills, Patty’s mom, an Austrialian aboriginal was kidnapped from her parents by state and church, split up from her brother and sisters, and settled in a “white” home. She is part of the Stolen Generations among aboriginals:
“Yvonne Mills is a member of the Stolen Generations. That term refers to the indigenous children who were removed from their families and placed with white families as part of a government- and church-sanctioned program that began in the late 1800s. It was not outlawed in all states until 1969.
Born on the rural western edge of South Australia, Yvonne said, she was separated from her brother and three sisters, all of them older, when she was 2 ½ years old. She was placed in an institution before being sent to live with another family.
‘I was always told she didn’t want me,’ said Yvonne, who along with her siblings learned otherwise when their family’s files were released after a National Inquiry report on the separation of indigenous children from their families was issued in 1997. “I just had a few letters, but my brother had a large stack. She wrote: ‘I want my children back. Please give me my children back.’ ”
This is a tragedy of adoption generally, intensified by forced, racist transfer.
Patty Mills’ parents both work hard for indigenous people:
“Yvonne and Benny, who have lived in the capital, Canberra, since they were married in 1982, have been deeply involved in supporting indigenous programs. Yvonne works for the capital government, developing policy and managing finances for indigenous health and education programs. Benny, who was dissuaded from becoming a pearl diver by his father, was sent to a boarding school in Cairns and has worked on federal assistance programs aimed at Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders.”
The Torres Islanders are a different indigenous tribe.
Such child stealing – see the film Philomena – has a terrible effect on both mother and child. For aboriginals, it is part of the United Nations’ definition of Genocide – see the Convention against Genocide here which includes the forced resettling of children of one group in another. This was done widely to American and Canadian indigenous people by the Catholic and Protestant Churches; as the NPR series in 2011 highlights, it is still a vile fact of life in South Dakota – see here and here.
A Reminder About Genocide
“In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”
Article 2 was motivated by the Nazi stealing of some 200,000 blue-eyed blonde children from Poland – given “IQ tests,” skulls measured through anthropometry – resettled in rural German homes. See the Clarissa Henry and Marc Hillel film, “Of Pure Blood.”
The treatment of aboriginals was just like Jim Crow in the American South or apartheid toward Palestinians in Israel – see here:
“Some Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders are old enough to remember an era when they could not sit with whites in theaters or use public toilets. They also lacked the same access to education and health care.
That they often lived on the fringe of towns was an apt metaphor for their place in society.’
‘They came off missions and reserves; they didn’t always have jobs and homes to live in,’ Yvonne said. ‘Aboriginal people have this feeling of shame, of being unequal. They’ve carried this shame all these years, and you can understand why. They don’t want to compete against a white person.'”
What Yvonne refers to are standard transgenerational effects of genocide for which the process of healing – when the injury is not being freshly aggravated – is long (h/t Ramona Beltran who names this “transgenerational trauma”).
Although perhaps an overly optimistic account by the Times‘ reporter,
“Benny and Yvonne made sure Patty would not have any insecurity. He played for the Shadows at age 4, immersed himself in sports like track and rugby, and attended Catholic schools until he turned 15, when he was admitted to the Australian Institute for Sport. There were few other indigenous children, and when racism arose, it was dealt with quickly. If it was on the court, Patty would let his game do the talking. If it was with an adult, his parents stepped in.
‘We had to get him to understand he was special,’ Yvonne said.”
Patty Mills seems vigorous and in very good spirits.
As he looked up to the track star Cathy Freeman, Patty Mills is also an example for many indigenous children to find hope in, emulate in whatever they go into:
“[the Mabo decision in 1996] served as the backdrop for the 2000 Olympics, where Cathy Freeman, an Aboriginal sprinter, lit the flame at Sydney Olympic Stadium and later delivered a signature moment of those games, winning the gold in the 400 meters and then carrying the Aboriginal flag around the track.
“That moment was — I get shivers just thinking about it,” Mills, who had just turned 12, said as he pointed to goose bumps on his forearm. “I ran track, and my pet event was the 400 meters, and I wanted to be like Cathy Freeman. The whole country was on Cathy’s back during that race. Everyone was clued in during that race seeing her cross the line and how she handled herself, not only on the track, but before and after, because she had so much pressure.”
Mills would like to serve as a similar inspiration.”
Mills, the leading scorer in the 2012 Olympics, is proud to be the first aboriginal Australian to play in and now be on a winner in the NBA championship series.