Why I moved from ‘no’ to ‘yes’ on the Voice

4 Oct 2023

As someone who is often in the public eye, Meriki Onus has found herself at the crossroads of a significant shift in her stance on the upcoming referendum on October 14th. This decision has been fuelled by a multitude of factors, but, Meriki writes, it's imperative that she clarifies the reasons behind her transformation from a firm "no" to a "yes."

Meriki Onus

The upcoming referendum on October 14th is filled with complexity. Many of us assert that non-Indigenous votes shouldn’t influence Blackfulla business. Yet the consequences of a national ‘no’ vote looms ominously, potentially empowering policymakers to worsen their approach to decisions that affect us, if that’s at all possible. And the fear of heightened hatred weighs heavily on my mind. 

As the vote nears, I express my intent to vote “yes,” but under duress. It is crucial to underline that my viewpoint is strictly my own and does not represent any collective or organisation I am affiliated with. My aim is for my opinion to coexist within the ongoing discourse, standing firmly against the racist ‘no’, creating space for generative dialogue and unity with others who share the same vision.

The constitution itself is archaic and fundamentally racist, and not all of us asked to be entered into it. In the face of ongoing colonialism, our identity and ancestral knowledge stand as a testament to our strength.

I am lucky enough to have grown up in both my parents’ countries. I’m an ocean Blackfulla from the south eastern shores of the continent. My childhood serves as a living testament to the enduring legacy of unwavering self-determination and sovereignty movements that gained momentum in the 60s, 70s, and 80s – a legacy for which I am eternally grateful. I have cultural and kinship connections to many Black protest movements from the south east coast over the last century. My identity is my source of strength, this is what these movements instilled in me. Through this upbringing I’ve had front row seats to some of the greatest engineers of self-determination in our time and not once have I seen my elders and respected members of the community in Victoria advocate for constitutional inclusion during this time. But this is not where we have landed today. 

But a ‘no’ is a worse option. Right now we have the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ binary on our doorstep, and true to the Australian way, it’s not consensual. I agree with the view that non-Indigenous people shouldn’t have a say on Blackfulla business. However, Australians will cast their vote on the 14th of October and it will be on the basis of how they feel and what they think of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

I don’t want the outcome to be ‘no’, that’s why I’ll be writing ‘Yes’ in just over a week’s time. I don’t want to wake up on the 15th and feel even more hated than I do right now. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people around the country are facing overt racism at work, in class and in their local shops, with people telling them they don’t care about Blackfullas with the current racist ‘no’ campaigning. 

There is a lot of justified mistrust and concern of what the body will look like. What isn’t widely known is that there are  already Indigenous advisory  bodies in Australia that function in a very similar fashion to the proposed representative body. One of them is The First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria. This body is democratically elected by Victorian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their role is to prepare for negotiations and to reach an agreement on a treaty with the Victorian Government.This advisory framework is very similar to proposed the Voice to Parliament. Don’t just take it from me, I encourage everyone to do their own reading and research. This has helped me cut through the nauseating sensationalist campaigns,racism, misinformation and disinformation.

As for our  Sovereignty, whitefulla expression of sovereignty is to suggest that there is a separation between spiritual and political sovereignty. To me there is no separation. No one person is the arbiter of what is sovereign and what isn’t. I am a Gunnai and Gundtijmara person. The knowledge we hold of kinship, country and protocol has existed from the first sunrise, this knowledge of identity and country has been protected and maintained despite the ongoing genocide of our people, and will continue to survive until the last sunset. No matter what happens in October. For me, this certainty has been the only saving grace throughout the vicious racist ‘no’ campaign from Dutton’s camp and the daily racist attacks in the media. 

I conclude with a meaningful quote from Associate Professor and Amangu Yamatji woman Crystal McKinnon:

“Indigenous sovereignty pre-exists and exists independently from colonial discourses of Aboriginality. Our social movements, our political protests, our artistic and creative productions, are bound together by sovereignty. They are connected because they are practices of sovereignty… This is the same for Indigenous people producing and acting in social or protest movements.’’

Regardless of the outcome from the referendum, our identity and sovereignty will endure. Our communities will persist, and together, we will continue to fight for our sovereignty long after the referendum, as we have always done. 

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