The Dumbartung Aboriginal Corporation strives to empower the healing of our people’s lives and communities through cultural initiatives that strengthen the spiritual identity and creates a sense of belonging
A REPORT ON “MUTANT MESSAGE DOWNUNDER”
Profile of Robert Eggington.
Robert Eggington is a Noongah man form the southwest of Western Australia. The traditional heritage of his people is embedded in the south west forest regions. The word 'Noongah' means ‘person’, by which collectively the Aboriginal people of the southwest region identify themselves and their homelands. As the coordinator of the Dumbartung Aboriginal Corporation, Mr Robert Eggington organises strategies to oppose cultural appropration and exploitation. Before compiling the present and the previous reports, he has travelled extensively through outback regions, consulting with Aboriginal people about their response to the
Book "Mutant Message Downunder". In early 1996 Mr Eggington led a delegation of elder respresentatives to the United States, to formally protest the content and implication of "Mutant Message Downunder". The contingent of Aboriginal elders represent the Voice of all Aboriginal people regarding cultural exploitation and appropriation.
Profile of Paul Sampi.
Paul Sampi is an elder from one arm point, in the north west Kimberley region of Western Australia. He is of the Bardi people and is the Vice Chairperson of the Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Cultural Centre. Paul is also involved in the running of traditional ceremonies (singing and dancing). The Bardi people are of the sea, and some dreaming tracks of the Bardi people extend out to sea with ancestral beings embodied in the reefs and sandbanks.
Profile of Peggy Patrick.
Peggy Patrick is from the Warmun Community situated at Turkey Creek in the north west of Western Australia. Peggy is a senior Aboriginal Law Woman, who is responsible for woman's law in her area. Peggy represents her people's cultural issues as a member of the Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Cultural Centre. Peggy is an extremely well respected Law Woman.
Profile of Robert Bropho
Robert Bropho is a Noongah elder of the Swan River Valley in Western Australia. Mr Bropho is the spokesperson for the Swan Valley Noongah Community, which is comprised of the last of the river people living on the Swan River and coastal plains. The Noongah people respect and believe in their religion and their culture, the belief of the indigenous people of Australia. Mr Bropho has led many previous land rights stands at the Old Swan Brewery site.
Profile of Joan Winch
Joan Winch is and elder from the South West of Western Australia. Joan is the founding member of the Marr Mooditj Aboriginal Health Workers’ Training Program situated at the Clontarf College in Perth WA. Joan is worthy recipient of the World's Health Organisation’s Sassakawa award. She retired from Marr Mooditj in 1994 and is renowned for her health work in the Aboriginal community.
Profile of Glen Taylor
Glen Taylor is a Noongah man from the Katanning District. He is the executive officer of Abmusic, an Aboriginal community based cultural arts organisation which advocates the abolition of all form of cultural exploitation. Through the executive committee of Dumbartung, Mr Taylor has been involved in the campaign of opposition to "Mutant Message Downunder" since its inception.
Profile of Rex Japangunka
Rex Japangunka is the chairperson of Central Lands Council in the Yuenogmu Community and is involved in ceremonial activity in that area.
The United States Campaign.
On the eve of departing for the USA, the campaign representatives attended a major press conference held at Dumbartung Aboriginal Corporation in Perth, Western Australia. Many national and local media networks, both electronic and print, attended the conference, including Channel 10, 7, 9, Special Broadcasting Service (SBS), the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC), community television, West Australian newspapers limited, Sunday Times, WHO Weekly, Aboriginal Radio Perth, the Bulletin, the Koori Mail and various freelance journalists. Mr Robert Eggington addressed the press conference, initially giving a comprehensive overview of the issue and the need for a unified Aboriginal voice of protest against cultural exploitation and appropriation. Mr Eggington's opening address was followed by each elder outlining the concerns from their respective region.
These concerns focussed on the long term implications of the book, the cultural inconsistencies, and the blatant falsities of Morgan's claims. Prior to the press conference, we were informed that Marlo Morgan had discussed with the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the possibility that her life would be placed in danger if the delegates were given legal clearance into the United States. Marlo Morgan believed that a "death man" was accompanying the delegates. The reason behind her paranoia was due to her misinterpreting a statement made by us earlier in the campaign. This stated 'if Marlo Morgan has done what she claims to have done this is punishable by death under Aboriginal law', and reflects the law that no woman is to participate or witness man’s ceremony and that no man is to witness woman's ceremony. During the press conference Ms Peggy Patrick, from Turkey Creek, discussed the issues regarding women's business as the sacred right of women only, speaking specifically about the way in which Marlo Morgan accumulated information on women's business from anthropological studies and historical books and then forced this sensitive material into the commercial markets of the world. Peggy also made strong points discussing the reality of cultural Law as it is still practised today in many regions of Australia to demonstrate the relevance of protecting sacred law knowledge.
During the press conference, it was outlined that the campaign against "Mutant Message Downunder", and other appropriated literature currently being published, is part of an ongoing colonisation process that commenced 200 years ago in this country.
The elders departed Australia on the 26th January 1996, Australia Day, a day of no-Aboriginal symbolic celebration that marks the anniversary of British colonisation. While non-Aboriginal Australia celebrated the "birth" of a nation, what they consider to be the successful transplantation of British culture to a "new" country, the delegation was travelling overseas to contest the appropriation and erroneous representation of Aboriginal culture by a white American author. The intention of the delegates journey and campaign was announced to the audience of the annual la perouse survival concert in Sydney on Australia day as the delegation was leaving the country.
The delegation arrived in Los Angeles on the 26th of January 1996. Preparation for the first press conference, scheduled to be held at the Roosevelt Hotel the following day, commenced immediately. This conference was convened in conjunction with the Greater Los Angeles Press Club and waspublicised by a series of press statment releases. The press conference included representatives from media networks such as La Opinion, the largest Spanish speaking newspaper in the country, local radio stations, stringers for channel 7, 9 and 10, the associated press network of the United States, WHO Weekly and the San Francisco Chronicle. Following discussions with theElders, Mr Steven Segal, the well known actor and producer, and representatives from block public relations attended the conference in a stance of support and solidarity for the Delegation's protest against the content and concerns of "Mutant Message Downunder". Mr Robert Eggington opened the press conference with discussion on the damaging implications of the book, he then continued to speak of the appropriation and distortion of Aboriginal culture to fit the extremely profitable New-Age literature market. Each Elder then addressed the media to convey the direct effect this book has on the people in their region. The female delegates, in their address to the media, highlighted the ludicrous and offensive nature of Morgan's claim that, as a non-Aboriginal American woman, she is the custodial owner of the knowledge and location of the sacred site to which - she stated - she was granted permission to enter and learn the meaning of life.
At the conclusion of the conference, Rex Japanunka, representing the Central Desert region, demonstrated the didgeridoo, displayed Aboriginal artefacts and presented a series of desert paintings. Rex explained the meanings of the symbols and artwork to the media. We believe that this highlighted to the American media the difference between genuine Aboriginal cultural knowledge being presented in a respectful way by Aboriginal people, and Morgan's attempt to steal and commercialise the cultural knowledge without true understanding or respect of the subject. The press conference ended with delegates responding to questions from the assembled media.
Meeting with Steven Segal at Warner Brothers Studios
Mr Segal invited the delegation to meet with him and other associates at his Warner Brothers studio office. Mr Damien Brinkley, an associate and friend of Marlo Morgan, also a ttended the meeting and arranged for telephone link-up with Marlo Morgan who was in New York city. The discussion with Marlo Morgan was on the speaker phone so all that the elders in the contingent had the opportunity to listen and speak to Marlo Morgan. Robert Eggington began the discussion with Marlo Morgan, then each elder addressed her in turn about their respective regional concerns regarding "Mutant Message Downunder". At the completion of this discussion, Marlo Morgan gave her word that an apology in writing, set on the conditions and agreements of the Elders and cited and signed by a lawyer, would be forwarded to the delegation within 48 hours. This apology was to include the fact that her claimed journey was a Hoax. It was clearly understood at this point that Marlo Morgan was demonstrating a willingness to publicly admit the truth and make amends for the damage that her book had caused. Given the optimism that the delegation felt after the discussion with Marlo Morgan, it was bitterly disappointing when two days later, during a brief discussion with Damien Brinkley at the foundation room, we were told that we were no longer negotiating with Marlo Morgan. Instead, all further discussions were to be conducted through a lawyer with her agents at Harper Collins. This led to a number of phone calls and written documents to Rose Carano at Harper Collins, as we could no longer contact Marlo Morgan. During this time, the Australian 'A Current Affair' program was Desperately trying to arrange a meeting between Marlo Morgan, her agents and the Elders. Due to the non-compliant and totally non-responsive action from Harper Collins this meeting never eventuated.
United Artist Film Company
The film company, United Artist, originally commenced negotiations and signed for the script rights to produce a movie based on the book "Mutant Message Downunder". Information gathered from individuals and magazine articles informed us that a number of well-known actors-including Shirley MacLaine, Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep - were favoured to play the role of Marlo Morgan. Prior to departing from Perth, representatives of United Artist confirm a meeting with the Elders to discuss the issues regarding our campaign.
On arrival in Los Angeles, the delegation was contacted by United Artist International affairs officer, who advised us that he was cancelling the meeting. This cancellation was due to the situation becoming to controversial after a New York based journalist requested to film the meeting. United Artist advised the delegation that the script had not been prioritised to go to film at this stage, and they therefore felt that a meeting would not be productive or beneficial to either party. In response to the meeting being cancelled, Robert Eggington informed United Artists that if the movie were to go ahead, and was to be filmed in Australia, the studio could expect mass protest from both Aboriginal people and the Australian film industry, not to mention extensive casting problems. Mr Roger Pugsli of United Artists owns the film rights to 'Mutant Message Downunder" and is referred to on the concluding page of the book as "Roger of Hollywood". To add insult to injury, the delegation learned that aspects of the film script were to be changed to increase the sensationalist appeal of the story. The revised edition allegedly involves Morgan's character being kidnapped from an Australian city and forced to undergo a number of rituals and ceremonies by the tribe.
The delegation arrived in San Francisco on the 31st of January 1996, they were welcomed by Mr Bobby Castilo who represented the American Indian Movement. Whilst in San Francisco a series of Cross-Cultural exchange opportunities were arranged, by the American Indian Movement, as a strong bond of solidarity and support between our two groups. The elders were invited to participate in a sweat lodge ceremony held outside San Francisco. The experience demonstrated a strong trust and mutual respect of both indigenous cultures.
Meeting with American Indigenous Women
The delegation held discussions with a gathering of indigenous women on land owned by the group. This was a powerful meeting with the women expressing empathy for the struggle of Australian Aboriginal people, especially as they are in a similar situation protesting against the cultural appropriation and exploitation of native Americans by another American author’s new-age literature, Lyn Andrews. A clear parallel between the women of both cultures was established as both have experienced the outrage and concerns of white women infringing on culture rights and the misrepresentation of cultural and spiritual knowledge. The women offered unconditional support to the delegation's campaign and vowed to monitor Morgan's American lecture tours.
Meeting with the Student Kouncil of Inter-tribal Nations
The American Indian Movement convened a meeting at the University of San Francisco between the Kouncil, the delegation, and interested lecturers to discuss issues of cultural exploitation raised by "Mutant Message Downunder". The delegation spoke to the gathering of approximately 40 people and discussion later opened up into a wider analysis of the sacred social positions of the two Indigenous groups. The student body pledged their ongoing support for the address of the issue, and to create awareness of the falsity of her claims.
Free Leonard Peltier Street Rally
Robert Eggington was invited to speak at a street rally in front of the government building in San Francisco. The rally was organised by the American Indian Movement for support to free Leonard Peltier, an AIM activist who was arrested in 1976 and charged with the murder of a FBI agent. Many speakers from Community based organisations in San Francisco attended, including representatives from Amnesty International. The issues of social justice and the plight of political prisoners was a central theme highlighted at the rally. A large crowd of approximately 300 people attended the rally.
Black Civil Rights Group
Members of our delegation met with a Black Civil Rights Group who supported the initiatives of the campaign against the appropriation of indigenous cultures.
Meeting with Jon Carroll
Jon Carroll is a wel known and respected American journalist who writes for the San Francisco Chronicle. He had read "Mutant Message Downunder" and published a number of articles about the fallacious nature of Morgan's text. He was the first American journalist to publicly criticise the book, and his criticisms and concerns preceded the campaign's momentum. Our meeting with Jon Carroll was productive and supportive, resulting in additional articles against Morgan's book.
Indigenous Legal Conference
Patricia Friedel arranged for the delegation to address a conference of Indigenous Legal Representatives at a town north of San Francisco. Many solicitors, as well as two judges and an FBI agent, were at the conference. Robert Eggington presented the declaration "Jangga Meenya Bomunggurr" and then further discussed the issues raised by "Mutant Messages Downunder". The meeting was productive in the sense of discussing the legal proceedings of action against authors such as Marlo Morgan.
Meeting with the Lord Mayor of San Francisco.
Patricia Friedel, a close associate of the well-known Australian actor Jack Thompson, arrranged a meeting for the Elders’ delegation to meet with the Lord Mayor of San Francisco, Mr Willy Brown. Mr Brown's chief officer of protocol and the chief of police also attended the meeting. Following disussions regarding the purpose of our visit to the United States and the media focus of the campaign, the Lord Mayor offered the moral support of his office and officially welcomed the elders to the city of San Francisco. The USA campaign was extremely successful regarding exposing the hoax of "Mutant Message Downunder". The campaign was support by many concerned individuals and groups in the United States and in particular I would like to acknowledge the respect and acceptance offered to the elders by a wide range of people.
Aboriginal Ownership and Control
Since finalising the initial Bonuh Wongee Message Stick Report (August 1995)
The issues raised by many Aboriginal groups regarding the rightful ownership by the Aboriginal people over cultural material and knowledge prioritises the direction of the second report. These issues were the core discussion points of our meetng with North American Indigenous groups during the campaign in the United States.
It is interesting to note that the Native Americans have defined a list of "plastic medicine men and women". This list refers to non-indigenous art forms, and lecture on native spirituality and culture. Marlo Morgan has now been placed highly on that list as a result of her being exposed as as spiritual trickster attempting to sell her distortions of our culture to the world by claiming recognised ownership of cultural knowledge and the right of entrance to sites of sacred significance.
It is extremely concerning to recognise the amount of exploitation of North American native culture being practiced in the Perth metropolitan region by non-indigenous people. These exploitations include people in the Fremantle and hills areas. Advertising sweat lodge ceremonies that incorporate didgeredoo, healing and other spiritual activities, and the establishment of numerous native American art galleries which have no connection with, or reference to, the benefits of Native American Communities in the United States. Aboriginal culture has always provoked interest from a wide range of sources. These interests can be assessed on multiple fronts such as anthropogical studies, scientific research, eco-tourism, commercial purposes, students studies, medical interests, herbalists, alternative religious practitioners, humanitarians, self-proclaimed healers, spiritual and psychological refugees. The ever increasing numbers of non-Aboriginal owned art galleries dealing exclusively in Aboriginal cultural arts with export marketing interests are dominantly established in every major city across this country, dealing in commodities ranging from tourist souvenirs to fine art pieces. Exploitation is rampant within these circumstances. In many cases these gallery owners operate without any form of understanding or integrity regarding cultural arts promotion and development. This has forced a position where the Aboriginal Community has stringent Aboriginal community based cultural centre in order to immediately address the current and further potential for blatant exploitation of our people and culture.
Aboriginal people have not only the right to ownership of our heritage but are also the custodians of the oldest living culture in the most ancient land mass on the face of the earth. Dumbartung's aim was to meet with as many Aboriginal communities and groups as possible to obtain full community endorsement and ownership of the opposition to "Mutant Message Downunder" and the teachings of Ms Morgan.
Bureaucracies deal with all forums of society through impersonal policies either existing or inappropriately developed. However, Aboriginal people, since the beginning of time have dealt with the same forums through the expressions of dance, music and storytelling. More importantly it is within the campfire environment all discussion is raised, issues are dealt with and information is distributed. This is the forum ownership endorsed to allow information to be given to whomever, a particular group or community may choose. This information is not openly accessible to the international community of non-Aboriginal people for any purpose and especially not for the purpose of generating monetary interest regardless of the degree a person may claim they are Aboriginal.
Aboriginality is a Birthright
Regional meetings were held in Alice Spring, Fitzroy Crossing, Adelaide and Darwin with surrounding Aboriginal Groups and communities, to access a wide band of Australia, stretching from north to south, for this report Map. As Ms Morgan claims to have crossed Australia from west to east, meeting with Aboriginal communities, groups from north to south would expose any evidence of Marlo Morgan’s past/present in the area.
Always the appropriate Aboriginal protocol was maintained. This protocol existed before white colonisation and adherence to the protocol continues today. Primary points of protocol are: involvement of Elders at the Noongah meeting in Perth, two Elders, one male and one female, were selected to travel with two Dumbartung representatives. It was important for the woman Elder to attend to discuss the women's business described in detail by Marlo Morgan, with women community members. It is uinimaginable for women's business to be discussed by men or by women in the presence of men.
The involvement of the elders reinforces the authority of the eldership. Elders have a role in inter-community relationships and within communities are held in great value and respect as holders of Oral Tradition and wisdom.
Obtain clearance to enter a Community
Under Aboriginal protocol, a person does not enter another person's tribal boundaries without permission. Before the meetings, an information pack was sent out to each community or group. The information pack included a copy of the self-publication version of "Mutant Message Downunder", copies of media articles, a cassette of aspects of Marlo Morgan's lecture in Los Angeles and Community Response forms. Permission was gained for the meetings and a right of passage cleared.
Privilege of Right
This relates to the right to use knowledge offered by an Aboriginal community in good faith, in way that will not cause offence or distress to the community or its individual members. The knowledge is not to be removed from the ownership of the individual to whom it has been offered, unless a privilege of right has been granted by the community. The Dumbartung representatives ensured individuals, Community Elders and Aboriginal organisations gave them permission to reproduce their comments on "Mutant Message Downunder".
Making the Message Mine
Marlo Morgan has moved swiftly to capitalise on the international media interest and phenomenal sales of "Mutant Message Downunder". Her new booklet "Making the Message Mine" features a photograph of herself and Burnum Burnum on the back cover. She is trying to imply that the Aboriginal people have validated her as their messenger. Morgan's willingness to appropriate Aboriginal Culture for financial gain is possibly even more apparent in this booklet than in her original work of disrespect. It is certainly another step along the road towards Aboriginal culture denigration.
In its very title, "Making the Message Mine", Morgan clearly implies that the 'wisdom' and 'life lesson' she was supposedly taught by the “real people” now belong to her. Further, she encourages readers of this booklet to meditate on her experiences as described in "Mutant Message Downunder", in order for them to also make the Message theirs. In the booklet's introduction she clearly invites her readers to buy her first book if they have not already done so, then use the booklet to appropriate elements of Aboriginal culture for themselves. Once the Aboriginal 'message' is theirs, they are to apply it to their own spiritual emptiness, and will be miraculously 'healed', supposedly in much the same way that Morgan herself was 'healed' after walking across spinifex for four months in the Australian desert. The following excerpt from the introduction to 'Making the Message Mine' underlines her determination to ensure that she is accepted as an authority on Aboriginal Spirituality: 'in order to use this [booklet], you need to be familiar with my book "Mutant Message Downunder". Some of the most meaningful messages from the text have been pulled out to allow you to take a deeper look at them. The suggestions that follow are intended to be a springboard for jumping into more depth in Making the Message yours.... We have tried to ask questions that will make a difference in your life, that change your focus and empower you in your beingness and in making the Message yours'. As no other American can make such an outrageous claim, Morgan has deliberately created a rare and desirable product - "knowledge of Aboriginal spirituality" - which only she can offer to a spriritually starved public. The public are being led to believe that they can buy Aboriginal wisdom - now reduced to a product available on the shelves just like any other consumable item - in a booklet, and that they too can make the Messages theirs.