An Aboriginal woman clad in possum skins put a traditional curse on Prime Minister John Howard on Tuesday, apparently in retaliation for government plans to abolish Australia’s top indigenous elected body.
Howard encountered the woman on a visit to Colac, an outback town with 500 people in the state of Victoria. Supporters turned up to greet the prime minister along with angry Aboriginal protesters and the woman, known only as Moopor.
Painted in traditional tribal makeup and wearing possum skins, Moopor stood silently and cast the curse by pointing an inch-long bone at Howard as he climbed into a waiting car. Howard smiled and waved at Moopor before leaving.
Warning for Howard?
Moopor refused to speak with reporters, citing unspecified Aboriginal cultural reasons. It was not clear what effect the curse was intended to have on the prime minister.
Geoff Clark, the chairman of the soon-to-be scrapped Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, said the curse was a warning for Howard.
“Mr. Howard can ... ignore the message at his own peril and be put under a curse up until the next federal election,” Clark told reporters.
The commission, widely referred to as ATSIC, advises the government on indigenous issues.
With 17 commissioners elected by Aboriginal voters and a budget of more than $600 million, it administers government-funded projects aimed at improving their lives.
But Howard said on April 15 that his government plans to abolish the 14-year-old commission because it has failed to improve the lot of most Aborigines, who remain the poorest, sickest and least educated minority group among Australia’s 20 million people.
In place of ATSIC, the government wants to appoint a panel of Aboriginal experts to advise it on indigenous needs.