The Voice to Parliament: Beyond yes or no…

30 Aug 2023

Today, the referendum was announced. Luke Pearson reminds us that soon enough, the referendum will be over. The votes will be cast, and the outcome will be clear. But it’s not going to be a fun ride getting there.

Voice to Parliament: Beyond Yes or No

I started the year in the fairly lonely ‘I don’t know’ camp, but I think I’m ending it in the “I don’t care anymore’ camp. 

I care much less for what happens on the day the votes will be counted than I do for the days and months and years that will follow. 

The rift that the debate itself has caused between those mob who support it and those mob who oppose it will need to be mended. 

Don’t get me wrong, I know  a lot of mob on either side have been on opposite sides long before this battle turned up on our doorsteps. 

But I feel like this divide has torn asunder relationships between many mob who otherwise agree on the vast majority of issues, and they are going to need to find a way forward together, beyond this.

Some will find this easy, others will not. 

Even those who haven’t really entered the fray have still been impacted by the discourse. Having to listen to white people talk over us about the importance of listening to our voices is a particularly insidious form of white violence. 

I wrote a long time ago about the damage that is done when we are talked about and debated by non-Indigenous people and, in that process, inevitably dehumanised with in it:

“… the inevitable removing of Indigenous people from the dialogue in favour of another round of ‘Who are the real racists?’. By removing us as having an active role in the dialogue it acts to make us both object and subject of other people’s discussion, and not active initiators or participants within the discussion. When this happens it doesn’t really matter which side of the political spectrum people are arguing from, whether those people are arguing that the demonisation is fair comment or that we need to be saved, or both, the damage is done. We are not equals asserting ourselves and engaging in a dialogue, we are a problem that white people need to solve ‘by any means necessary’ with, or more typically without, us.”

Whether we are yes or no or undecided, after the referendum, we are going to need to come together again to fight the same battles we always fight. The fight for our rights, our dignity, our lives, our culture, and our very existence. 

We may disagree right now, and we may feel that old familiar sting, but if there is a voice we’ll need to band together to either get behind those who make up our voice, or we’ll need to speak against them if they fail to adequately represent our interests. If there is no voice we are going to need to band together to find new alternatives to move forward, and continue to hold the lines we have been holding for decades already. 

When this has passed, who we voted for in the referendum will be a moot point, for the battle will have moved on to its next phase. The question of party or campaign loyalty, of ‘camps’ and everything else will need to be left by the wayside. 

In many ways, I sincerely do not care whether the referendum is successful or not. 

If it is or if it isn’t, the more important question for me will be how we can repair the rifts between us. Many of these rifts are not new, some are decades if not centuries old, but there has been a growing divide through this campaign that was inevitable. 

And don’t get me wrong, lots of mob don’t want to repair that rift and that’s their right. That’s their call to make for themselves, their families and communities. I’m not appealing to some nostalgic bullshit that says we should all hold hands and sing Kumbaya. That’s not exactly my style.  

However, I see in most mob, yes or no, the same fire, the same cause, the same vision of a better future, and I also in many a sadness that the rift has grown through this process and I see a desire to move beyond it. That is not to say there are not legitimate gripes on both sides, or that there are no wounds that have been inflicted and will require time to heal.

Sadly, I know that there is like a common enemy to put aside our differences and band back together, and whether or not the referendum is successful you can be sure we will have many days ahead where there will be much less room for debate or division about who that enemy is or what we need to do in response to their attacks. There will be many more days when we start a conversation but end up becoming the object of debate, sacrificed on the altar of white people asking yet again ‘How do we solve the Aboriginal problem?’ not realising that it is not us who are the problem but them. 

The best we can do while we wait for the next battle is look after ourselves, look after each other, and start looking for ways back together.

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