Truth and Treaty are the theme of the second piece in the Reform series where you are asked to consider the possibilities of a better Australia – but that does require you to confront your way of thinking. Part one of the Reform series ripped the Band-Aid off and discussed what no privileged person wants to discuss – reparations – but this piece will explore the necessity for truth and the essential culmination of this nation awakening and coming of age – an agreement that defines the terms of co-existence.
We are viewed as a problem in this country. We are a problem that is met by the powerful with “solutions” brandished like weapons to beat us down and keep us down. The oppression of Indigenous people is not some abstract concept in history – it continues.
The reason this continues to happen is because this nation is not an honest one. This nation clings to a national identity built on falsehoods of “mateship” and a “fair go”, but the truth of the matter is that there has been a malevolent and deliberate destruction of Indigenous people for the past 230 odd years. This country has not been built on opportunity but on the theft of mineral-rich land, toiled on by the slave labour of the Indigenous people.
This uncomfortable truth is met often with outright hatred and determined ignorance, or with an acknowledgement of the history that is accompanied by petulant refusal to also acknowledge that current generations have anything to do with the acts of their ancestors.
This is true. Current generations of Europeans who came to this land are not responsible for the acts perpetrated by their ancestors. Current generations are, however, responsible to be mature enough to acknowledge that the effects of those acts are ongoing – transgenerational, if you will – and the power structures that continue to oppress are a direct result of the acts of those who forced themselves on this land and annihilated the traditional owners’ lands, lives, language and lore.
Simply put, we are not asking for the current generations of non-Indigenous Australians to apologise for the acts of their ancestors. What we are asking for is that they join us in dismantling the power structures that reinforce the oppression first started by their ancestors and help us create a future where Australia can live up to the narrative it tells about itself.
The only way for this to occur is through structural change and a change of the power paradigm. For this, I propose truth and an agreement on the terms of our continued co-existence. Truth achieved by way of a shift in standards for the media and the educational curriculum and agreement achieved by honest and fair dialogue, where the needs and wants of the Indigenous community are not only considered but delivered upon.
The media, the education system and the transgenerational racism all work to maintain the oppression of Indigenous people and violently reject any notion of culpability – a message from the powerful institutions that seek to maintain control and power.
We are not the lucky country – those that say that are privileged and ignorant to the truth of the oppression happening all around and abroad because of the decisions made by out of touch opportunists sitting in parliament house.
This country needs reform of the education system as an urgent and primary factor in creating the knowledge of the truthful history of this country so that the paradigm shift and change in consciousness can occur. The government resists this so heavily because they know it is an incredible powerful tool to maintenance of the status quo.
My daughter goes to school and is “learning” that Australia was “found” by great explorers. Despite all of the academic literature, our children are still being taught this indoctrinated version of history that is a disservice to the minds of children who deserve to know the truth when they are at an age when their empathy can be employed without the reserve we do as adults.
This country is a lie.
The founding act of this country was based on a racist lie – a lie protected violently and insidiously for 231 years. It commenced with the attempted eradication through swift violence and then more malevolent attacks of poisonings, massacres and deliberate infection of disease. When our ancestors could not be killed in the foul swoop intended, the strategy switched to the attempted cultural genocide with intentional removal of children to assimilate and breed out the black. More recently, the powers that be have altered their medium to cultural denigration by control of the media so that we are viewed so abhorrently by the general public that any policy implemented that causes us damage is viewed as ‘for our own good.’
So effective is the propaganda that the homogenous majority take to the streets and social media demanding that they be protected from ‘other.’ They refer to themselves as the minorities in ‘their own country’ and yet they fail to see the glaring hypocrisy. These sentiments are fuelled by the powerful who continue to allow racial division to be fuelled on false reports and pseudo-journalism from mainstream current affairs programs.
This country has an abysmal track record on the matter of human rights and it has proven over the last 231 years to have a clear contempt for not only the presence of an Indigenous population but our continued survival.
The facts lay in the numerous international condemnations of our human rights record from the imprisoning of innocent people seeking asylum under valid international law, to the imprisoning of children who are subjected to torture and abuse, the abuse of resources to reinforce poverty in remote communities and the failure to address the rate of black deaths in custody among a great number of devastating real examples of human rights abuses right here in the ‘lucky country.’
This is why continued tokenistic measures are inadequate and are an insult that should never be entertained.
What is required is an instrument with teeth that enshrines rights, obligations and consequences for a failure to meet those obligations. One such way I have explored is Treaty, but this is not necessarily the answer and there needs to be discussion among the clans to come up with a model that we all support in order to pursue that model collectively on our terms.
Any push for treaty from a political party is problematic and should be immediately shut down. Treaty is something that can be supported on the policy level but a political party cannot and should not use our issues and our pursuit of rights as their means to win votes or point score – they have no right to set the agenda, framework or timing.
The pursuit of treaties is something I have supported for long time; however, it would not be the answer to all of the institutionalised problems the non-Indigenous community faces with its lack of insight, education and ability to self-reflect. While some would say that having the same conversations for a couple of hundred years ought to be sufficient to get through to them – it appears that comprehension is out of grasp for many that cling to the narratives perpetuated in badly disguised propaganda.
Why go and seek evidence-based knowledge when it is easier to hate?
Australia has hate aplenty, which is why there is simply no trust left as far as Indigenous people are concerned when engaging with the government or other authorities. We have learned repeatedly that our very presence is an inconvenience that interrupts the warmth and comfort of ignorance.
While I think a Treaty would be a powerful instrument, it does not necessarily have to be a treaty to be effective in creating significant change for our people. Any compact negotiated would not be solely to specify the terms upon which both groups would like to engage into the future or to build in the requisite protections for Indigenous people to ensure rights are preserved and protected but to acknowledge the fact that we simply cannot trust non-Indigenous Australia. Entrenched protections are essential to any negotiated instrument because we know from experience, Indigenous affairs are always at the whim of whichever government is in power and used as a tool in political power plays where the Indigenous communities are always hurt.
The model I support is one that builds into Australia’s existing structural framework: the executive, judiciary and legislative bodies. These are supposed to represent all members of society, but Indigenous people now make up less than 3 per cent of the population and since the abolishment of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission more than 12 years ago we have had no national representative body with the ability to affect policy. The wellbeing of Indigenous people is in decline and policies are made “for” Indigenous people without any input from the people affected.
The community-nation councils with their own governance structures based on lore could elect representatives to a national caucus, which, I propose, would be an additional arm of the existing Australian legislature that would deal primarily with Indigenous policies. The national caucus would be the first time Indigenous nations have come together in an engaged manner, where all Indigenous nations would be afforded a voice for the combined purpose of shaping national Indigenous policy.
No more about us without us.
Despite how we are portrayed in the media, we are not vengeful and hateful people. Barring a few who sit atop their pedestals in parliament, we do not want to load the boats and send you all to your true homelands.
What we want is an Australia that is something of which we can all be proud. A country that is able to acknowledge its history and the effect of that history. A country that has the maturity to accept responsibility for this history and for perpetuating the policies that maintain the oppression of our people. A country that takes steps to address this history by dismantling the structures born of the theft of this country and derived from a foreign colonial power that built an empire through aggressive theft of others’ homelands.
If we are self-determining people and communities – Australia will thrive without the current divide.
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