First Peoples seek to be heard

December 20, 2017

Dancers from Mutitjulu at the opening ceremony for the National Indigenous Constitutional Convention near Uluru in May 2017.

As this year draws to a close, it is an appropriate time to reflect on our progress towards reconciliation with our First Peoples.

While the Federal Government has rejected the Uluru Statement, which was the culmination of six months of consultations across the country, causing great anger and dismay within all quarters of the Aboriginal community, Darkinjung Land Council chief executive Sean Gordon believes ‘‘the genie is out of the bottle’’.

‘‘We have identified the very source of our powerlessness. We have traced the cause of why we fail to close the gap. We have no voice in the decisions that impact on us,’’ he said.

‘‘The government’s actions ... will not stuff that genie back in the bottle. We will regroup. We will be demanding our voices are heard.

‘‘I sense a great galvanising will come from this.”

The push for constitutional change and a treaty in Australia has also been backed in a recent United Nations report.

The United Nations’ special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, recommended that the Australian Government place full political weight behind the proposals of the Referendum Council, including the setting up of a First Nations Voice to Parliament and a commission for treaty negotiation and truth-telling.

‘‘Such measures would carry momentous significance to resetting the relationship with the First Peoples of Australia,’’ the report states.

While Ms Tauli-Corpuz said the Australian Government’s initiative on constitutional change had dragged on for nearly a decade with little progress since a UN rapporteur last visited Australia in 2009, the Victorian, South Australian and Northern Territory governments were making positive moves by seeking treaties with Aboriginal Peoples.

In Victoria, the Aboriginal Treaty Working Group called for community members to be a part of the new community assembly, which will provide recommendations to the working group on the design of the statewide Aboriginal Representative Body, which will negotiate treaty.

The Aboriginal Representative Body will work with government to determine what is needed to support future treaty negotiations and engage with Aboriginal Victorians on the treaty process.

Jill Gallagher, the newly appointed Victorian Treaty Advancement Commissioner, said: ‘‘The Aboriginal Representative Body will give a unified voice for our mob in treaty discussions for now and into the future. It is important that the community voice is at the heart of the design of the representative body.’’

In Canberra, the ACT Legislative Assembly — with tripartisan support — passed an amendment to the Holidays Act instigating Australia’s first ever Reconciliation Day Public Holiday. Reconciliation Day will be on every year on May 28.

The new public holiday will mark the 1967 referendum anniversary and will mark the start of National Reconciliation Week.

Reconciliation Australia co-chair Professor Tom Calma has applauded the ACT for becoming the first Australian state or territory to gazette Reconciliation Day as a public holiday.

Meanwhile, on September 13, Moreland Council in Melbourne’s north voted that the council would no longer refer to January 26 as Australia Day, joining Yarra and Darebin councils’ supporting action and the call for a conversation about the date of Australia’s national day.

Contributing to this conversation, radio station Triple J has recently announced the Hottest 100 would be moved from January 26 following feedback from listeners.

Reflecting on these changes, it seems appropriate to acknowledge the work of indigenous activist Dr Evelyn Scott, who was a key figure and passionate advocate and leader for reconciliation and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights.

Dr Scott, who recently died, had a vision for our country and its future generations: ‘‘What a rich and valuable heritage to leave our children — a 56000-year old culture, thriving in a country at peace with its conscience.’’

As rapper Briggs so clearly put it at the recent ARIA awards: ‘‘Until we have true equality on all levels, on all facets of society, we’re not going to be able to embrace what this country really could possibly be, and that could be even more special.’’

So let’s join together and galvanise to continue the work to see Evelyn Scott’s dream become a reality.

Our future generations deserve no less.

Find out more at www.reconciliationvic.org.au or write to your local member about the Federal Government’s recent decision to reject the Uluru Statement.

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