We don’t want ‘equity’, acknowledge our sovereignty

Adjunct Professor Phillip Mills of the Kulkalgal Nation, explores the importance of prioritising sovereignty over equity for Indigenous peoples’ survival.

My Grandmother’s birth in 1869-1972 was cause for a letter from the queen congratulating my Aka on her 100th birthday. Her story was one of thriving as a sovereign being within her element in spite of the forces of colonialism to survive against. Many in her era had one passage of rite and that was to freely practice their sovereignty in their life expectancy within their cultural ecological wellbeing.

I had the honour of reading the letter to her whilst she had this look of disgust and disdain in her dismissive stare, partly due to her dislike for me and partly because of the trauma the signature of the letter caused her. Fortunately, she wouldn’t understand English dribble, by choice. I remember that very definitive moment of her dismissal of the crown as one of pure justice; how the gesture and its entire glory meant absolutely nothing to our matriarch.

She was born practically free in 1869 and 103 years later still graced as a free independent leader of our family. Our freedom didn’t come from any decolonising agenda; it was her dignified aura of unmatched sovereignty streamed into our heart throughout the history of our family and many, many families today. In fact all of us carry an innate sovereign status of our foremothers and fathers into all our interactions before our wellness was colonised and replaced with health supplements. 

It is from this place of a sovereignty unceded, that we can see clearly through the lies and limitations of these supposed charitable colonial gestures offered to us in this time, such as ‘equity’ of health as opposed to parity of our wellbeing. Our innate sovereign right of parity in our wellbeing is there for our taking, but is interrupted by the myth of health equity, which is a dead end road, benchmarked on assimilating a punitive past, and trapping us into a perpetual poor health cycle. 

Yet in a time of appalling and persisting racialised health disparities the state has offered up health equity as the solution to our supposed woes, in a most incredulous self-congratulatory style. This is a saddening moment of self actualisation where our choice of sovereignty and my grandmother’s thriving years of 103, ironically acknowledged by the head of the colony, is now being enslaved to a disparity of poor health boasted by the State representing the same crown.

Equity places us at a further remove from our own sovereign disposition, like its predecessors of self determination and self management, which are all forward steps going backward into a neo-colonial imperialist state. Equity acts to transpose our sovereignty by reducing us to the lowest common denominator to regulate our measure of existence, absolutely skewed toward our extermination. 

We thrived for 40,000 years as the oldest living culture on the planet, and to be reduced to a life expectancy benchmark via 250 yrs of colonisation, standardised by fallible racist thresholds is by definition sheer insanity.  With Terra Nullius dead the balance of power does change unlike what we are being led to believe.

Any system that discounts us into extinction with perfect score tags on our body bags, replacing our life worth with a monetary value on our sickness cannot be of benefit to us. And it hasn’t been, according to the continued reporting against the closing the gap targets, whether they are refreshed or reframed. This is the mediocrity of Indigenous affairs policy, but is also reflective of the business as usual approach of expatriates whose presence is predicated on our passing. 

Equity offers more for expatriates than it does for us. It provides a non-threatening form of redemption that absolves them of the sins of settler colonialism, validating the status quo. 

It is we who carry the scars, who weep at grave sites while they continue to reap the benefits. 

Measuring us to the nth degree of our suffering leaves us further adrift, bringing us no closer to wellness, of the lives we once lived. Being defined via equity is a framework of forgetting, a loss of our identity, a life lived on our terms. Equity ultimately restricts us to repressive arguments of equality of racial indifferences rather than of redress, of their obligations to right the wrongs of the past and take responsibility for the excess premature death rates caused by colonisation. 

This racist notion where we have had to demonstrate to the world that we have sovereignty in order to legitimise their wrong is now out of fashion. Sovereignty unlike equity is never granted and we must never ask for it. It’s our inherent birth right and will continue to grow through our assertion of it. To do otherwise, to cede ourselves as only ever underprivileged subjects is to remain tied to the chains of colonialism. 

The more we decline those letters of congratulation or invitations to validate the expatriate’s existence, the more visible and tangible the consolidation of our own becomes. 

Equity is after all just sugar coated crumbs set up by expatriates for expatriates to regulate their guilt by drip feeding us. 

Our sovereignty is ceded when we are conscripted into settling for less. 

Our sovereignty exists outside of, in spite of the narrow parameters of the colonial imagining, because it just is. 

Sovereignty is the stance, strategy and solution. It means the difference between Kolea Lug kiss ass and Lagau Kuike kick ass.

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