On the 26 January 1938 this day was declared a Day of Mourning for Indigenous peoples in Australia. It was asserted by the Aborigines Progressive Association that:
‘WE, representing THE ABORIGINES OF AUSTRALIA, assembled in conference at the Australian Hall, Sydney, on the 26th day of January, 1938, this being the 150th Anniversary of the Whiteman’s seizure of our country, HEREBY MAKE PROTEST against the callous treatment of our people by the white men during the past 150 years, AND WE APPEAL to the Australian nation of today to make new laws for the education and care of Aborigines, we ask for a new policy which will raise our people TO FULL CITIZEN STATUS and EQUALITY WITHIN THE COMMUNITY.’
On 26 January 2021 given the failure to right the wrongs of the past and treat us as equal in the community, we still need to assemble across the nation to mourn the historical and contemporary injustices caused by the invasion 233 years ago. Largely untold, Australia’s white history launched the violent colonising our of nations, in a brutal manner that denies us the place as the first peoples of the land.
We demand more: truth, justice and respect, to maintain our own distinct political and cultural identity – always was, always will be…
Yes, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have full citizen rights, insofar we were given the right to vote in 1962. However, I want to reflect on the appeal by the APA to the Australian nation, to create laws for the education and care of Indigenous peoples that ensure our equality within the community.
Firstly, there remains among non-Indigenous people a lack of education and truth-telling about 60,000 years of living culture and the ongoing impact of invasion. How can the Australian nation sing about being ‘one and free,’ when it is estimated that prior to colonisation our many nations had 250 distinct languages governed by their own distinct systems of law, culture and traditions, that survived and are still thriving today.
However, the deprivation of our political autonomy has been profound. In the early years of colonisation, the Aboriginal Protection Acts reduced our families to wards of the State, and the Protection Boards became their legal guardians who exercised complete control and power over their lives. Today we are still not free, as our people make up the largest growing prison population. The recent OID Report stated adult imprisonment had increased 72 percent in the past decade, and 6 out of 10 youth detained are Indigenous.
The ongoing legacy of past laws and policies continue to repress and cause harm amongst Indigenous peoples. This will continue until we are freed by the truth: acknowledgement and justice for the harm, violence and ongoing trauma of laws and policies, that take away our control and power of our lives.
Until the Australian nation understands the truth of the past and the present, only then can better laws and policies be written with our voices and aspirations, to remove the silence of their structural and ongoing harm.
Secondly, in 2020 I reflected a great deal about care. Especially caring for country. The current law did not care and protect the 46,000-year-old caves at Juukan Gorge. As was the case in the 1990s, when the Constitution’s ‘race power’ was not deemed beneficial, when considering sites of cultural significance to the Ngarrindjeri women over a resort development on Hindmarsh Island.
In fact, despite the introduction of statutory regimes, such as native title and cultural heritage legislation, we have not been afforded land rights that adequately redress the dispossession experienced as a consequence of colonisation. It can also be argued that the promotion and care of our cultural rights are subject to ongoing loss, as our communities’ fight for justice in colonial legal systems, that lack knowledge of our own unique political and cultural systems.
Finally, we are not equal. Despite equal opportunity laws too many experience racism and discrimination in the community.
So why is truth-telling important?
The denial of the unique history of our peoples means the reform or creation of any law or policy is devoid of any discussion of the disadvantages resulting from colonisation. The more brutal aspects of history – genocide, dispossession of lands; social and cultural disintegration; racism – are not allowed to enter the popular discussion, nor are our needs and aspirations as Indigenous peoples addressed.
We cannot continue to have laws and policies made for the betterment of us, unless non-Indigenous people confront this country’s colonial history and our hopes and ambitions as Australia’s First Peoples.
They say the truth will set you free……well here is a starting point, as the Tiddas staunchly sing back to the Australian nation: “What’s pride in a country without pride in ourselves?”
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