In these testing times, our Ancestors would show love and compassion

29 Sep 2023

With the national debate leading into the Voice to Parliament referendum intensifying, we must remember to be kind to one another as an act of solidarity against racism. Wiradjuri and Wailwan woman Teela Reid reminds us that this is the way of our ancestors, and we need to continue this, no matter the referendum’s outcome.

Ancestors would show love and compassion - Teela Reid
Pic by Jakayla Reid.

We know as blackfullas, the reality is that nothing has ever been handed to us on a silver platter in so-called Australia, despite ongoing claims to the contrary. For every inch gained by our Ancestors, it has always been powered by an enduring love for our people and this place. Since the first sunrise, to the last sunset, this continent always was and always will be Aboriginal land, sky and sea.

The result of the Voice to Parliament referendum on October 14th will reveal more about the state of white Australia, then it does about who we are as proud First Nations people. 

Whether you intend to vote Yes, or No it is so important right now to show care and compassion particularly within our First Nations communities. The diversity of views that reflect our many different cultures is our strength, despite the mainstream expectation placed upon us that we must speak with one voice. It is a double-standard white Australia does not even hold for itself. Every day we wake up to politicians from all walks of life arguing, disagreeing and belittling each other; yet we are the ones cast as problematic when our differences are weaponised against us through the myopic lens of disadvantage.

‘[We] are not the problem!’, as the late Aunty Rosie Kunoth-Monks declared.

Blak politik is not offered the same privilege, as a space for the contest of ideas, that white Australia entitles itself to. It is hypocrisy to the highest degree. 

While 97% of the nation narrows in on the referendum question: whether to enshrine an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament in the Australian Constitution? This week on the ABC Voices of Australia series, Professor Larissa Behrendt AO acknowledged the strong support of the legendary Cathy Freeman AO for the #YES23 campaign and made the following measured and insightful analysis; 

I think [First Nations] people are grappling with a slightly different question [as opposed to the referendum question] which is from a genuine desire to want to do something that will improve the lives of our people, the question is what is that and is this the thing that will do it? At the heart I genuinely see people in our community wondering if this will be good for them, their family and community, and that seems to be the struggle that we’re seeing when we talk to First Nations people.’

It is true that every First Nations community has a deep desire to improve outcomes for our collective futures. We know our strengths are inextricably linked to the fact we are the oldest continuing peoples on the planet. We do not need Australia’s approval to live our truth, but we must never lose sight of the love and compassion we have for our own people. If there is one lesson we can take from the history books, it is that our Ancestors never backed down when times got tough. 

The Voice referendum is exposing the politics of fear that has always dominated Indigenous affairs. We are witnessing the worst kind of racist vitriol fuelled by neoliberalist ideology under the guise of ‘freedom of speech’. 

When I think of the battles that lay ahead for our people on the other side of the Voice referendum, I am drawn to the legacy of the late Gladys Tybingoompa, who successfully led her people in the landmark High Court case, The Wik Peoples v The State of Queensland  & Ors [1996] HCA 40. After years of litigation against the state of Queensland, Gladys stood on the footsteps of the High Court of Australia in Canberra and said;

My name is Gladys. I’m the hot one. The fire. Bushfire is my totem. And I’m a proud woman of Cape York today. It is for me, here today, a historic moment as a Wik woman. 

I am not afraid of anything!”

Not being afraid of anything, despite the brutality of Australian history. This is the energy I am taking on the road to the Voice referendum and beyond. To show up with compassion and kindness, propelled by an undying love for our people, exactly as our Ancestors would have done. 

Inevitably, the Voice referendum is going to change the national narrative of Australia – the world is watching and history will judge us for how we navigate this most important vote of our generation. 

I have been deeply disturbed by the level of lies spread by the official ‘No’ case, inciting violence and racism by using my personal content to mischaracterise my advocacy, which must be condemned. I am not the only Blak person who has had to endure this kind of attack. Furthermore, while organisations such as the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria have tried reaching out to platforms like Facebook, there has also been virtually no support within Federal government or the official ‘Yes’ campaigns to navigate these experiences. 

And mainstream media has proven it is a law unto itself; unrestrained, historically unreliable and still lacking forensic analysis of First Nations issues. Where there is good-will among some journalists there is only a surface level understanding about the nuances in our communities. Alternatively, in the extreme shadows of Australian media there is outward peddling to its racist base which is rife with deliberate misinformation and disinformation.  

Wherever you stand on the Voice, it is so crucial to show kindness. 

Despite my own reservations on the proposed Constitutional amendment that I expressed formally to the Australian government on 17 April 2023, I will be voting ‘YES’. 

If the Voice does not prevail, I will continue to show up for the love of my people. 


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