Recognition, Reconciliation, Treaty and Sovereignty

28 Nov


Wild Dogs, Caterpillars And Wide Open Spaces – Art By Glenn Loughrey


Recognition, Reconciliation, Treaty and Sovereignty

One we don’t want, one we don’t need, one that promises much and one we already have.

“Officially, one in 59 Australian deaths is suicide but one in 18 Indigenous deaths is a suicide and this abomination will become even more catastrophic.

Between 2001 to 2010, officially there were 996 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicides (on average 100 suicides per year) but in the five years from 2012 to 2016 there were 718 suicides (144 per year). This is a 44% increase.”

“At present, 80 per cent of Australia’s child suicides are Indigenous children.”[1]

 The researcher comments further: “Nearly 100% of Indigenous suicides are of people living below the poverty line. Nearly 100% of these suicides are of people without substantive education…” and it is “The diabolical, dirt-poor poverty (that) is killing the Indigenous youth, killing young parents.”

This is Australia, the world’s 12th biggest economy, in 2017.

How do recognition, reconciliation, treaty and sovereignty fit into this picture?

Recognition is a proposal to include us in the Australian Constitution – predating the constitution by several tens of thousands of years it is not necessary for us to be included in or recognised by the Australian constitution unless that constitution is rewritten to acclaim our sovereignty and our place of primacy in the nation’s hierarchy. We don’t not need to be tapped on the shoulder and be told “Arise noble savage, we recognise you.” This is both inappropriate and disrespectful.

The circumstances around Jacqui Lambie’s exit from the Senate could be used to support recognition, an argument based on the acceptance of white invasion logic – we stole the country and set up laws to protect our crime and unless you submit to these laws you, still, do not exist. Recognition in whatever form is just another word for assimilation, and we reject assimilation.

The truth is that we are here. We have always been here and always will be. We do not need artificial recognition by those who up until 1967 would not accept us as fellow citizens.

Reconciliation is also a white man’s construct devised as an attempt to appease guilt, generational guilt, for the genocide inflicted on our people. I do not want or need reconciliation. Our people do not need reconciliation. We have done nothing wrong. It wasn’t us who stole the land or took away the children, destroying languages and culture.

Reconciliation is a process that is undertaken by those who wish to regain a relationship they have lost. But, there has never been a relationship. Within 15 minutes of the then Lieutenant James Cook engaging indigenous people, he ordered the first shots fired (29 April 1770). There was no relationship for us to repair. Reconciliation is always about how to “be nice to the blackfella” or “how to educate the white fella” so we have “this is how we will educate or be nice to the blackfella plans”, we have “be nice to blackfella week” and more.

Yet there is no attempt to readily return land except where very remote and perceived of no value to the invaders – to truly understand and respect the deep connection and responsibility the First Peoples have with their sacred estates/ lands or, to return both the land and property rights in valuable resources that will allow indigenous people to flourish and continue to develop and sustain economic certainty for their peoples. There is no attempt to provide opportunities for the learning of languages and customs by all Australians so that we avoid the paternalism plaguing indigenous policy making. There is no attempt to engage in deep dialogue with the clans/Elders/Traditional Owners and the various indigenous nations to understand their structures and economic models and to provide opportunities for people not based on sport, entertainment, art or royalty.

What Aboriginal people need in their communities, particularly those outside metro areas are not increasingly mainstreamed services provided by well-meaning white people who receive top wages and remote allowances, but the right to determine our futures through a proper economic model that respects and is designed with the people from the outset of policy formation, that develops relevant and sustainable education and not just in Australian English, that recognises cultural duties to kin and country and for relevant employment, health and housing to repair the wellbeing of our people.

Reconciliation and recognition promise more paternalism, not less. They mean more invasive (neo-colonising) programs such as the NTER, draconian work-for-the-dole CDP, imposed income management, CTG and more. They mean the reduction of indigenous people to slaves working for welfare money/rations and entertainers on the sports fields and in the arts. They mean more tokenism through acknowledgement of country and the inclusion of indigenous ceremony at the opening and closing of every event, door and envelope.

Treaty is something we have seen other indigenous nations get and was something we should have had at the beginning according to British and international law at the time of the invasion. It didn’t happen because we didn’t exist. Terra Nullius was supposed to be put to rest in 1992 with the Mabo judgment, yet it remains deep within the Australian psyche.

The events of the last few weeks confirm that we still don’t exist. The rejection of the Uluru Statement and the expulsion of an indigenous woman from her elected position in the senate remind us that we are still unseen. In Jacqui Lambie’s case her white ancestor trumped her indigenous ancestors – white is good and powerful, black not. In the case of the Uluru statement, the Federal Government asked the indigenous people what they wanted and they answered with the Uluru Statement. Unlike the postal vote for SSM where when the people spoke they were listened to; the indigenous people spoke and were put in the trash can. We still don’t exist and you cannot do treaty with those who ignore your existence or your capacity to make good decisions.

While I have stood firmly for treaty I now ask the question – what will treaty do for us and what do we bring to this discussion that will force those we may wish to do a treaty with take us seriously?

We must remember treaty is not something we do to gain economic benefits. That is an agreement and we have many opportunities to do that.

Treaty is the coming together of equals to bring about a just existence for all. In the present circumstances, one is more equal to the other and therefore there can be no treaty.

A treaty as it is discussed and sought by well-meaning black and white people will not roll back the invasive and punitive paternalism or ongoing controls and colonisation we live under because these are too profitable for all who want to, or are blindly colluding, in assimilating us – governments, NGOs, educational institutions, health bodies, academics, experts and more. They will not embrace a treaty of equals because that will take away their power, the power of the mission and the missionary. The power of the father knows best.

That leaves us with Sovereignty and it is the most powerful of all. Why? Because we are the sovereign custodians of this land and have been for up to 80,000 years. Each one of us stands in the role of sovereign and we need to reassert our sovereignty as individuals, mobs, and collectively as a Nation. We have never ceded our sovereignty and we must begin to live what we already have. We are required as the sovereign custodians of the millennia of ancestors beneath our feet to stand tall and take back what is already ours.

Therefore we decide on what is good for us. We decide whether we engage with the invaders in terms of recognition, reconciliation or treaty, not them. We decide how to care for our land and people; we decide how we protect culture, language and ceremony. We continue to treaty with each other and build strength. We are to decide it is time to leave behind the mission and state protectorate mentality of never upsetting our betters and recognise our sovereignty, living out of that truth, regardless of the white fragility and deeply daily overwhelming dominant and oppressive structures we encounter.

We say no to unjust and disrespectful policies where ever we find them such as with NTER in 2007 and 2012 Stronger Futures which continue to cause profound despair, loss and destruction. We need to name it for what it is – cultural genocide. We will negotiate politically and commercially appropriate programs for our people and ourselves. We will speak the truth not only to those who wish to oppress us but also to those in our own ranks who collude in our exclusion and who want us to remain slaves to a welfare state/entertainment mentality and to others who want us to take on the culturally risky grand capitalist project. Not everyone who is black is Aboriginal. It is time to stop mowing the lawn and to take our place in the house where those who are sovereign live and begin to make the decisions. It is time to acknowledge and respect us as sovereign peoples.

It is time for us to plant our feet deep within our soils and walk backwards around the tree, to stop reverting to the mantras we have heard for 229 years and begin to see what has been there all the time – this is our land and we will live on it because it is ours, not theirs. We are a sovereign peoples and no one has the right to deny us our place in this land. Yes we are open to sharing our land but we need mutual respect and integrity

What next? Standing on the sure foundation of sovereignty we say no to the welfare state, reassert our autonomy, and begin the process of rebuilding a flourishing and economically sustainable future based on an holistic and location and culturally appropriate approaches in education, employment and infrastructure. Education and employment delivered in all indigenous communities, urban and remote, so that communities stay and grow strong. There are avenues of ethical and sustainable investment available if we have the vision and commitment to make it happen again, individually and as communities. In doing so it is how we use what we build for the betterment of the community and not just ourselves that matters most.

It will take the courage to say no to the dependency model unless that funding is used for self-determination, development on our terms and the living out of sovereignty. It will require us to reject funding designed to assimilate us into the dominant lifestyle without the capacity to own our futures for ourselves. This does not mean we won’t use what is available in the contemporary economic or political models, but we will do it as a sovereign business owner and not as a welfare recipient, grateful for whatever crumbs they throw our way. This approach will take time and much political activism but it will be time well spent as we harness our educated and courageous young people to change the world instead of killing themselves at incredible rates.

Yes, it is about sovereignty empowered economic solutions, all the rest are red herrings.  

[1] Australia’s abominable secret: A suicide crisis among children Gerry Georgatos,15 November 2017


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