Uluru Statement: moving towards Treaty
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Delegates at the Referendum Council at Uluru on Friday 26 May, 2017 issued a statement essentially rejecting the farce of Constitutional Recognition, and gave explicit support to the demand for a Makarrata or Treaty.
Taking place against the historical background of the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Referendum on including Aboriginal people in the Census, and on allowing the Commonwealth government to make laws relating to Aboriginal people, the mood of the three-day convergence was clearly against a repetition of superficial changes to wording which leave longstanding injustices intact.
Bunerong man Bruce Pascoe summed up that feeling when he told ABC radio last Thursday that “I don't think much about 1967; it didn't stop the intervention, or deaths in custody or the stealing of children, or the institutionalisation of racism within the constitution…. Some see it as a light on the hill, but I see it as the glint off a businessman's false golden tooth.”
That false golden tooth has been quite influential in the push for Constitutional Recognition. According to a Spirit of Eureka publication due to be available shortly, 'Driving Disunity: the Business Council against Aboriginal Community', the whole constitutional recognition saga had its birth in the Samuel Griffith Society. The Society was set up with key involvement of Western Mining Corporation boss, Hugh Morgan, a close friend of John Howard.
The Constitutional Recognition it proposed was more of the same: tokenistic, symbolic, a salve for hurt feelings, but scrupulously avoiding ATSI people’s rights to self-determination and sovereignty.
The Business Council of Australia, comprising the hundred biggest local and overseas corporations in the country, has been relentless in its push to develop a “new architecture” of Aboriginal leadership, of corporate-minded servants of finance capital within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
BCA Chief Executive Jennifer Westacott put on a brave face as she tried to minimise the significance of the rebuff to Constitutional Recognition, telling the ABC’s AM program on May 29 that “This is something that has got a long way to play out, I think…over history we’ve had many kinds of…I dunno, false alarms over things that turned out to work out in practice. Let’s see the final form. This is, you know, a matter for the Indigenous community.” In other words, let’s hold our fire, bide our time, and see how we can work through “our” ATSI leaders to turn the process to our advantage.
While the Uluru Statement from the Heart (see below) supports “a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations”, it has not entirely broken from a desire for Constitutional change. The Noel Pearson-initiated proposal for “a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution” pushes self-determination and sovereignty demands into the quicksand of the parliamentary talking shop and takes precedence over progress towards a Treaty.
It was Pearson’s influence that led to some members of the Referendum Council meeting waking out on the first day. Ghillar Michael Anderson, one of the leaders of the original Makarrata movement from 1981 to 1985, walked out on day one and was refused re-entry and speaking rights on the two following days.
Allegations were raised that grass roots activists were denied entry and that the meeting was stacked. Some mobs like the Tanami Desert people and Wilcannia people either refused to attend, or disputed the selection of those chosen to represent them.
Senior lawmen from the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yakunytjatjara communities said that the meeting had been held on their lands without their consent.
“As Chairperson of APY Law and Culture,” said Murray George from Fregon (Kaltjiti), “I have written to the Referendum Council to say the Tjilpis (old men, uncles, elders – ed.) are insulted that the Referendum Council did not respect protocol and procedure before they called a meeting for discussion on having Anangu/Aboriginal people all over Australia included in Australia's Constitution.
“We, the Traditional Owners for Uluru and Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara country argue that our Law is the Law of the Land in this part of the world and not the whiteman law. We know we have been controlled by the whiteman law because we didn't have enough warriors and clever Lawmen who can take the fight up to these people who occupy our lands illegally.
“We are only just learning about how to talk about sovereignty and the fact that the High Court of Australia in the Mabo case said our Law and Culture survived British sovereignty. So us Tjilpis are asking ourselves if the colonial power agrees that our Law and culture survived British sovereignty - well then what does that truly mean for us?
“This is what they should be talking about not trying to put us in their constitution so that they get power over us to pass laws for us without us really knowing what the real outcome will be for Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Law and culture.
“We don't want this meeting called by the Referendum Council to take place on our Country.”
Murray George’s statement that his community is still coming to grips with the implications of self-determination and sovereignty was echoed by Philip Wilyuka, a senior man from Titjikala, approximately 100km south of Alice Springs. He demanded that the consultation process be done proper way in the languages of the First Nations, when all options must be put on the table and both sides of the argument explained in detail. This way the communities can go forward fully informed. Wilyuka confirmed the need for proper interpretation into First Nations languages and more time to get it right.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart shows the direction in which ATSI people want to move, but the three-day meeting showed that different people have different ideas about which path to take to get there.
Even acknowledging the internal tensions and contradictions, it is clear that the course favoured by the multinationals and the BCA has been rejected and that a Treaty enshrining self-determination and sovereignty is clearly on the agenda for national discussion.
The desire for meaningful action, and not cheap words, is strong among First Nations peoples. They will have plenty of trickery and false words to deal with but their own united voice can no longer be denied. Quire correctly, they are setting the agenda for their own communities and are bound to achieve victory despite the false golden teeth of their opponents.
A meeting at the Aboriginal Embassy in Canberra will be held on 24 & 25 June to develop strategies going forward and to make First Nations’ voices heard.
In the interests of fully understanding the Uluru Statement from the Heart we reproduce the entire text below:
ULURU STATEMENT FROM THE HEART
We, gathered at the 2017 National Constitutional Convention, coming from all points of the southern sky, make this statement from the heart:
Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs. This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning of our culture, from the Creation, according to the common law from ‘time immemorial’, and according to science more than 60,000 years ago.
This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown.
How could it be otherwise? That peoples possessed a land for sixty millennia and this sacred link disappears from world history in merely the last two hundred years?
With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood.
Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future.
These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the torment of our powerlessness.
We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.
We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.
Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination.
We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.
In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.
Class Struggle and Socialism
Independence from Imperialism
People's Rights & Liberties
Community and Environment
Independence from Imperialism
People's Rights & Liberties
Community and Environment
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