McKinney Lecture 2022 – Unpacking the Statement from the Heart

2 Dec

Glenn Loughrey MA (Thl.), Grad. Dip. Min., Dip. Min., Honorary Associate Professor, Crawford School, College of Asia & the Pacific, Australian National University



I acknowledge the continuing custodians of all the lands on which we gather, right across this country. I acknowledge their elders, who have been wonderful guides and support, and who lead us in to many new insights. I acknowledge our elders who have cared for, who continue to care for, and will always care for, what is spiritual, physical, and valuable in the spaces we live in.

My task tonight is to unpack and reflect upon the Statement from the Heart[1] (from here referred to as ‘the Statement’, or ‘the Voice’)

In what follows I will explore three matters: what the Statement from the Heart is, what it is not, and how it works. The creative dynamic of the Statement from the Heart is that it is a justice or heart-healing tool. It is restorative justice writ large, involving the elements that make up the process leading to a resolution of the past and a creative response to the future by enacting justice in the present.

What the Statement from the Heart is

  • It is about justice

The Statement invites everyone living on this land to join us to create a just country on a political, corporate, and personal level. We are asked to work together to unpack what has happened, why it happened, who did it, why they did it, and what we need to do to put right the wrong committed against the First Peoples of this land.

It is not a moving forward to bring everybody together as one, as politicians are keen to say.

The Statement is about putting right the wrongs committed in the past and which continue today, albeit in a far more sophisticated manner. Justice is the act of a mature people who, unsettled by the past, takes the steps necessary to creatively resolve what can be resolved, and embark on a future without repeating the past’s mistakes.

  • It is about personal justice

We are invited as First People’s people to spend time on this process for ourselves so we can stand and remain. This is a process of understanding who we are, how we think and respond to what has influenced and continues to influence our remaining, and the trauma accompanying that. We are invited via this process to de-link[2] from the colonial overlays telling us that we are less than, and to re-exist the ancient wisdom within our country, within our bodies, to become more than enough for the situation we find ourselves in.

Non-indigenous people are included if they accept the invitation. By undertaking this process as individuals and communities they will begin to understand how the trauma that haunts them across the generations was seen as appropriate actions by people within their own ancestral lines.  As they struggle within themselves for the meaning of, and reconciliation with, their own inherited past, they will begin to understand how, why, and what they think about their place in this land, and their relationship with those who were here before.

  • It is about constitutional sovereignty [3]

The purpose of the Voice is to insert into the Constitution the sovereignty of First People’s people, bringing together for the first time in the history of the country recognition that we have a voice and have the right to speak about our interests and the things that affect our mother, this country.

Sovereignty in a First People’s sense is about autonomy over internal matters. It is inward-facing. It directly relates to country as both a legal and spiritual concept. It remains despite the overlay of colonial claims of sovereignty. Having this recognised inside the colonial constitution will restore our right to remain.[4]

Sovereignty is place defined by the relationship one has with country, ‘our mother’. Sovereignty is not what we decide we hold over place, and the others we share it with, it is what that place offers as compelling evidence that we belong to each other.

Sovereignty can never be ceded. We cannot give it away or have it taken from us. It was, is, and always will be. It can be shared, and it is this that a Voice in the Constitution will enact, allowing us to work out a shared process of sovereignty reflective of the place, the country (-ies) we now share.

  • It is about healing trauma

Here is a pathway to healing the trauma our people live with that leads to the kind of social issues prominent in the news media and which we always try to deal with using processes that work in non-First People’s spaces. Walter Mignolo[5] suggests:

Dispossession is, first and above all, dehumanising and psychologically degrading. People disposed are both physically and psychologically wounded. The colonial wound is more than physical, or it is both physical and psychological. Healing colonial wounds therefore requires not only legal justice but the self-gnoseological[6] and aesthetic reconstitution[7] of the wounded people. Colonial healing cannot be enacted by the state.[8]

Healing occurs if we commit ourselves to working creatively by delinking from the slavery of coloniality and beginning to re-exist what was here BCP (Before Cook and Phillip). The Statement is a creative process pointing to a healing/healed future beginning in the now, not necessarily by fixing the past, but by confronting it in ways empowering faith, hope and perseverance.

Healing is fulfilled when, in the enacting of the Makarrata, a line is drawn under the hurt, shame and guilt remaining in both bodies engaged in this process. At this point we encounter the truth that healing is a laying down of spears, allowing both to move into a new relationship.

  • It is about people

Lost in the constitutional and legal arguments about the Statement are those who designed it and for whom it was designed – the people of this land. The Statement was not just about the First Peoples but for those who came second, and those who continue to come. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders suffered the trauma of dispossession, including shame and deficit through being unable to honour the sovereignty and traditions of their home spaces.

Similar factors apply to those who are not First Peoples. Some are directly connected to the dispossession, others have come later and benefited from it, and some have experienced dispossession in their own native lands and family histories.

The Statement is a process to allowing all to work together in such a way that they can live alongside each other custodially (with respect, responsibility, and reciprocity), and agree to work towards wholeness, healing, and justice for all. It is not about reconciliation, nation building, and celebration of culture. These will, and should only, follow, not lead.

What the Statement is not

  • It is not about reconciliation

The Statement has nothing to do with the style of reconciliation we have adopted in this country. Reconciliation in its Australian guise is the process of assimilating First People’s people into Australian culture, rather than the provision of justice.[9]

The Statement from the Heart is a process that leads to reconciliation as truth-telling following on from voice (recognition) and treaty (conciliation). This will and must lead to reparation (makarrata) and not to the reassuring feeling that First People’s people have benefited from the goodwill of a government-driven process as offered by the Reconciliation process.

Whatever we do within this model of reconciliation as assimilation is superficial. The recruiting of First Peoples into the dominant society which sees us acting, performing, and achieving within mainstream parameters, is not reconciliation but the second assimilation era in this country.[10]

  • It is not about nation building

One of the clever things Australian Governments did was to perceive that Australia needs First People’s culture to be whole. First People’s culture, not people, is the missing link to nationhood.

While we applaud First People’s culture and those First People’s people deemed as eminent representatives of that culture, we constantly point to the deficit concepts evident in First People’s quality of life and their lack of agency over their lives. People are still seen as requiring the protection of the colonial culture, even though our people have been in this space for some 65,000 years.

It is about assimilation into a nation-building process so that governments, corporations, and institutions can say; “We’re doing really well on this because we have a First Peoples person running our reconciliation process, or we have eleven First Peoples people in parliament.” That is about nation building, or black cladding[11], or whatever we wish to call it.

  • It is not about the oldest living culture

We hear this statement, or a variation of it, from politicians and community leaders on a regular basis. Noel Pearson in his 2022 Boyer lecture stated that Australia does not like Aboriginal people. I would add they only like “the oldest living culture”.

First People’s people are both from and are formed by culture. Culture does not remain static. It changes and transforms itself and those who live by it. First People’s people are not powerless slaves to this process but are active players in the transformation of country and traditions.

It is not about “the oldest living culture” but about the contemporary culture creating people who remain. As 82%[12] of First People’s people live in suburban and urban or regional environments, this means that we are daily making adaptations of traditions and practices and developing new forms of such traditions and practices in a myriad of creative and life-giving ways – new art practices in all forms of the arts, new business adaptations of traditional life practices, new ways of engaging in and delivering education and more.

How the Statement works

  • The elements of the process

Voice, treaty, truth and Makaarrata.

  • Voice?

If you’re not heard, you’re not seen. If you’re not seen, you don’t exist in the eyes of others, and you begin not to exist in the eyes of yourself. You begin to gather up shame. I am wrong, and I shouldn’t be here.

Voice allows us to speak so that we are heard. By enshrining the Voice in the constitution, fellow Australians, especially those in power, are required to hear us. They cannot choose whom to listen to and whom not to listen to. They must listen to the Voice.

For us, non-Indigenous people continue to make the decisions about who is heard and who has the right to be heard. Embedding the Voice of First People in the Constitution takes away the right of non-indigenous people to only listen to the voices they choose. The Voice will be representative of all our people and therefore each of us will have a voice and be heard.

Enshrining the Voice in the Constitution is constitutional recognition of the sovereign voice of First People on matters pertaining to us. We’ll allow you to do the things that are necessary to govern the country, but we will want a voice on those things that directly affect us.[13]

  • Treaty

Treaty is the next step in the restorative justice process. Without an agreement (treaty) to engage respectfully and honestly with each other, the process stops.

Once you recognise that somebody else is here in the space that you saw as your own, you have a choice. You can choose to annihilate them and get them out of that space, so you have it all to yourself, or you can choose to come together with them and agree you will work out how to move this project forward together.

Treaty is conciliation. There has never been a time in Australian history when we have been together as one. We’ve jumped right from the invasion, extermination and assimilation to reconciliation, and  have never come together as one. Treaty is that point of conciliation, of coming together and saying, ‘we are both here’. We are not compelled to like each other, but we are compelled to find the way to move forward custodially.

  • Truth-telling

If you don’t have a place of conciliation, it’s very difficult to tell truth. The situation here is unlike what happened in South Africa. Truth-telling occurred in the direct shadow of what occurred. In Australia, we are some 250 years from the invasion and the subsequent genocide. Therefore, we have limited truth-telling to First People’s voices speaking about the bad things that have happened to us as individuals and corporately. Truth-telling in this scenario requires us to take our clothes off in public to show the scars in our delegated role of victim.

This is only one part of the story needing to be told. Truth-telling must include the other in this story standing up and telling the truth about their forebear’s motivations, how they thought, and how that continues to influence their behaviour in the 21st century. You are victims in this story.

At a recent school event, an 11-year-old boy asked: ‘how is it possible that one group of people could think another group of people weren’t human, and therefore they had the right to kill them?’ That is the key question to be explored in any truth-telling.


The process that leads us justice is makarrata, the creative justice model of our communities. If somebody had misbehaved or impacted another or the community, they would work through the elements of voice, treaty, and truth, arriving at the point of settlement and reparation.

This is makarrata. People speak of makarrata in this statement from the heart dialogue with a sense of unreality. Yes, it is about getting along after a major dispute but it is not a Disney movie ending where all live happily ever after.

Makarrata is about justice: what are the appropriate consequences for the things that have happened before this, and what will need to be done to put right the thing you did wrong? Makarrata is about reparation. It’s about paying for the privilege of being the dominant society in Australia. It’s about how we repair, repay, relink, and re-exist our continuing ancient and modern culture, and return autonomy to our people whose ideas and philosophies are contemporary and future focussed.

In the Bible, there is an Old Testament story about  Jacob at Peniel.[15] He’s being pursued by those he has taken advantage of, sending his family and servants on ahead of him, he stays on the banks of the river. That night, he wrestles with a young man, who is an image of God. When he wakes up in the morning, he walks with a limp. His hip is dislocated.

Makarrata is walking with a limp, because one of the ways that we would do reparation in traditional communities would have involved a spearing, usually in the thigh. Rarely a superficial wound. People walked differently because of that injury. Australia will walk differently if it engages in this process.

In conclusion

The Statement from the Heart is a justice process, a pathway, or a Songline[16]. It is a heart-healing process that will heal both the heart of this country, and if used personally, everyone’s heart. Arriving at makarrata doesn’t mean we stop there as if we have done all we need to do.

We must remain vigilant and avoid talking about voice as if somehow it is going to resolve all the issues to do with the original sin of Australia and the trauma it has caused on First People’s people. 1967 didn’t do it. The apology to the Stolen Generations hasn’t done it. The Statement won’t do it unless we are faithful to the process, and we are serious about learning to walk with a limp.


[1] For more information on the Statement from the Heart visit




[5] Walter D. MignoloCatherine E. Walsh, ‘On Decoloniality’, Duke University Press, June 2018.

[6] meaning self-knowledge.

[7] Entitled ‘Decolonial Aesthesis’, this collective project has been based on collaboration between academics, artists, curators, and intellectuals, who developed a framework and space within which diverse creative forms and practices would help affirm the existence of multiple and transnational identities in contestation of global imperial tendencies to homogenise and to erase differences. Decoloniality, decolonial aesthetics, and the liberation of sensing and sensibilities promote the re-creation of identities that were denied and silenced by the discourse of modernity and postmodernity and celebrate inhabiting the margins as a position of aesthetic, political, and epistemological criticism.

[8] Walter D. Mignolo, ‘The Politics of Decoloniality Investigations’, p. 174, Duke University Press, 2021

[9] “Australian ‘First People’s’ Reconciliation: The Latest Phase in the Colonial Project 1” by Damien Short.


[11] Black cladding means that an organisation or business or person has hired or is partnering with a First Nations person, but that person has no influence and is usually left out of conversations.
Source: Glossary of First Nations terms – Creative Spirits, retrieved from




[15] Jacob at Peniel: Genesis 32,24-32


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