My people are the Gangulu in Central Queensland. Gangulu country takes in what is known as the Dawson Valley area and extends to just east of the Carnarvon Gorge. I am currently the Aboriginal and Torres Strait social justice commissioner. This year marks the 20th year since this position was established, in response to the Native Title Act, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and a HREOC Inquiry into racial hatred.
One of my responsibilities is to report annually on the enjoyment and exercise of human rights by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. To that end, I will be launching my social justice and Native Title report 2013 on Friday 13 December. In the lead up to the launch, I’d like to share some highlights from the report and talk about plans for the future. My agenda for change is based on our communities meaningfully participating in decisions that affect us, using the UN declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples as the guide.
While I am tweeting as IndigenousX, I will also be celebrating International Human Rights Day on 10 December. This is a great opportunity to share some inspiring stories about the finalists for the Human Rights Awards 2013, including Gurruwun (Yalmay) Yunupingu.
One of the most rewarding parts of my job is being able to meet with people from all walks of life. One thing I always say is you can’t work on Aboriginal issues without being a human rights activist. Working in Indigenous affairs means that you are working with human rights day-in and day-out. Many of our mob are finalists in the Human Rights Awards this year. You can see from this list of finalists that there are many inspirational individuals and organisations out there working tirelessly for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Our communities need to exercise self-determination based on a new narrative that articulates human rights. An approach that is based on the declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples can provide sustainable improvements in our communities and families. This approach involves rights and responsibilities standing side-by-side. We can measure its effectiveness by looking at how the most vulnerable people in our communities are engaged and heard. Our communities need to be in control and our governance needs to be determined by us.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is the oldest continuing culture in human history. Our survival, our nurturing of land, and our achievements are not simply a matter of our identity as peoples, but something that informs the nation’s identity. Since the beginning of my term, I have used the declaration on the rights of Indigenous peoples as a compass to guide my work. It is time to breathe life into the declaration and make it more practical for our everyday lives.
I hope that as we further consider what the declaration means to us, it will become a more powerful tool for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to advocate for our rights and improve the lives of our people.