“The 10 year legal battle preceding the Mabo decision demonstrated resilience by the plaintiffs and the importance of not accepting injustices, even where those injustices are enforced by law.” Photograph: Supplied
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Jayde Geia is an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander woman currently working at Ernst & Young. Jayde is a commercial lawyer. She also volunteers her time as a director with the First Nations Foundation, Advisor to The Smith Family Advisory Group on Issues concerning Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and Member on the Queensland Law Society’s Reconciliation Action Plan working group. Jayde has also held volunteer positions with the AFL Queensland Diversity Board and the Queensland Multicultural Council.
Twenty-five years after the historical high court decision, the Mabo legacy continues to inspire and influence the nation. On Monday, the Mabo oration presented by the anti-discrimination commission Queensland and QPAC will bring leaders and community together to pay tribute to those who against all odds convinced the high court of a radically different account of Australia’s history and abolished the legal fiction of “terra nullius”.
To mark the anniversary, the oration will take the form of a question and answer panel discussion featuring prominent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, as well as native title experts.
We will pay tribute to the work of Eddie Mabo and the plaintiffs involved in the decision – the Passi family, the Salee family, the Rice family and the Meriam community.
My role on the panel will be to discuss how the younger generations are impacted by native title and how they can carry on the Mabo legacy.
The 10 year legal battle preceding the Mabo decision demonstrated resilience by the plaintiffs and the importance of not accepting injustices, even where those injustices are enforced by law. The Mabo legacy shows us that law and politics heavily influence lives and can both create discrimination and sustain and inflict injustice. However, the Mabo decision also illustrates that the law can be challenged and used to fight for equality and human rights.
For these reasons, and as an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lawyer, I strongly advocate for greater representation of our people in decision making roles in legal, political and commercial institutions. I would like to see more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders having the power to influence law making and wealth distribution to ensure that the rights and best interests of our communities are counted for.
Thanks to the resilience and determination of the generations before me, including those that fought hard in the Mabo decision, my generation has so many new opportunities. These opportunities include attending the world’s leading universities, such as Cambridge, NYU and Harvard, running international businesses and playing sport at the international level. Thanks to the support of my family and community, I have been fortunate enough to become a successful lawyer, work alongside judges and partners at a global top-tier law firm. I see first-hand how decisions are made and laws are created. And I work with many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander friends that are creating ways to influence in many different ways. Sometimes this means we need to take up opportunities away from our families and communities. In my personal experience it can be difficult to balance those choices and remain connected to family, traditions and culture.
Nevertheless, to me it seems plain that in order to create our own future it is important that we have not just a voice, but a powerful, influential and definitive say in politics, law and the economy. My generation and the next generation can carry on Mabo’s legacy by becoming decision makers who can, for example, improve the native title system for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, while respecting the importance of land, traditions and culture. For full inclusion in the economic and social life of Australia, we need to support our young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to take up the opportunities open to them, while helping them to keep strong to their identity.
This article was first published by Guardian Australia on 28 August 2017 as part of their partnership with IndigenousX