Its not only a Native American problem, its world wide.To Aborigines, Australia is a land full of secrets and wisdom,<br> where the ground is a dynamic, breathing mass. <br><br> They believe that the spirits of ancestors remain on Earth as<br> an omnipresent force, and this energy is portrayed in songs,<br> dances and paintings - the cornerstones of indigenous<br> culture. <br><br> But this spiritual vibrancy<br> compares starkly with the grim<br> day-to-day realities endured in<br> many Aboriginal communities. <br><br> Life expectancy for the average<br> Aboriginal male is 21 years less<br> than it is for the total male<br> population. The community<br> suffers disproportionately high<br> rates of ill-health,<br> imprisonment, unemployment,<br> substance abuse and violence. <br><br> "[Aborigines] can look forward to being sick, unemployment,<br> racism and a very, very early death," said Linda Burney, the<br> first indigenous member of the New South Wales state<br> parliament. <br><br> Aborigines complain they are the victims of more than a<br> century of institutionalised racism. <br><br> Frustrations have recently boiled over. Serious unrest flared in<br> Palm Island last November, and in the Sydney suburb of<br> Redfern last February. <br><br> But the government of John Howard has promised a fresh<br> approach, including the formation of a new body to address<br> Aboriginal affairs and a new policy on welfare. <br><br> Canberra says positive results<br> are already being achieved. <br><br> For example, death rates<br> among Aborigines for infectious<br> and parasitic diseases have<br> fallen significantly, and there<br> are more indigenous students<br> entering further education. <br><br> Linda Burney acknowledges<br> some improvements have been<br> made but believes that<br> progress has been<br> excruciatingly slow. <br><br> "I don't think things have changed very much," she said,<br> pointing out, for example, that Aboriginal women are dying at<br> an increasingly younger age. <br><br> Domestic violence is partly to blame for this, fuelled by a<br> brutal mix of alcohol abuse, boredom, and a lack of education<br> and opportunity. <br><br> Traumatic history <br><br> Aboriginal Australians' problems began more than 200 years<br> ago, with the arrival of European colonisers. <br><br> Aborigines saw the loss of land and tribal hunting grounds. In<br> the areas of health care and education the impact was largely<br> positive, but Aborigines were often forbidden from speaking<br> their native languages or performing ceremonies. <br><br> Their trauma intensified with<br> the advent of an official policy,<br> between 1910 and 1970, of<br> removing Aboriginal children<br> from their families. <br><br> Campaigners argue that the<br> main purpose of the policy was<br> to dilute and eventually<br> extinguish native culture. <br><br> The historical legacy still<br> overshadows how Aboriginal people want to tackle their<br> problems. <br><br> Some activists see symbolic issues, such as land rights and<br> reconciliation with the white community, as fundamental to<br> reversing disadvantage. <br><br> Others see them as less important than the practical and<br> urgent need to tackle the day-to-day destruction of lives. <br><br> In line with this, John Howard is abolishing the Aboriginal and<br> Torres Strait Islander Commission (Atsic) in July, which was<br> established in the late 1980s and was meant to give<br> indigenous people greater control of their own affairs. <br><br> He has said it has "become too preoccupied with symbolic<br> issues". <br><br> Managing welfare <br><br> The government will replace Atsic with an advisory group of<br> distinguished Aborigines who will help shape official policy. <br><br> One controversial proposal will impose financial sanctions on<br> parents who do not look after their children adequately, in an<br> effort to end what the government calls 'passive welfare'. <br><br> But Cliff Foley, a senior<br> member of Atsic, argues such<br> policies apply mainstream<br> political thinking to a set of<br> problems that require a<br> uniquely Aboriginal response. <br><br> "One of the things we've<br> always asked (for) is to take<br> responsibility for ourselves," he said. "We don't want to be<br> told what to do by people who seem to think they know<br> what's good for us." <br><br> The government has denied its policies are paternalistic. <br><br> "The government is more determined than ever to ensure that<br> indigenous Australians have the opportunity to share in the<br> benefits... provided by strong economic management," said<br> Indigenous Affairs Minister Amanda Vanstone. <br><br> There are those who want far more. Veteran Tasmanian<br> campaigner Jim Everett is demanding an independent<br> Aboriginal state. He argued that an autonomous government<br> was the only way to guarantee the long-term survival of<br> Australia's Aborigines. <br><br> "Our determination is as strong as it can be... but it can be<br> broken. They (the white community) have only got to keep us<br> on the poverty line and eventually they will break us down,"<br> he said. <br><br> Black pride <br><br> Other community leaders are more optimistic about the future.<br><br> Shane Phillips from the Tribal Warrior Association in Sydney,<br> which trains native Australians to become sailors, said a<br> "revolution" was quietly under way in many communities. <br><br> "Our people are starting to find different trades," he explained.<br> "We're starting to build foundations in different fields, from<br> doctors and lawyers to great athletes." <br><br> And through all the adversity shines the bright light of<br> determination. <br><br> "If there's something that we're good at it's surviving," said<br> Linda Burney, "and one of the great attributes we have is<br> resilience." <br><br><br>