“Fuck your constitutional recognition, I want a treaty”
“Fuck your constitutional recognition, I want a treaty,” writes a young Australian Aboriginal man, as Aboriginal momentum grows for a treaty with the invader society and against government-driven plans to write them into the constitution. “Right now, I just want to yell, ‘Fuck your recognition.’ I know you think ‘it’s the right thing to do’ but I don’t want it and we don’t need it. I want a treaty. A treaty forces you to see me as an equal with a separate identity, history and culture that has existed for tens of thousands of years. Recognition forces me to ask to be seen by you in a colonial system that I don’t want to legitimise. Fuck that,” Nayuka Gorrie comments at the online platform of Vice Australia magazine.
The federal government is spending millions of taxpayers’ dollars on publicising its recognition drive, not a cent on the opposing stance.
Gorrie picks up some of the criticisms of constitutional reform by indigenous elders.
Why is the government pushing it and why is mainstream media hiding it?
– The government wants more control over First Nations people, especially those living on ‘valuable mining land’
– The commercial channels (ch7, ch9. ch10 etc) are funded by big business interests and regulated by the government
– The ABC and SBS (NITV) are funded and being bullied by the government
Who is the ‘Expert Panel’ that advises the government?
– They are (un-elected) people especially selected and funded by the government
– The expert Panel: www.recognise.org.au/about/expert-panel/
Why should one oppose it?
– Because the government wants to name First Nations people in the constitution so they have more power over them.
– It will allow the government to discriminate on the basis of race.
– It fails the test of compliance with the UN Declaration on the Rights of indigenous Peoples: www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf
– It gives the government the power to pass legislation like the ‘Northern Territory Intervention’ against the First Nations people in the states
– Sovereignty was never ceded – this legislation will remove these sovereign rights – it will kill any chance of workable and grass roots self-determination
The treaty call has just picked up a lot more drive at a packed meeting in Sydney, following a move by the government of the southern state of Victoria to start treaty negotiations with its indigenous people.
The Sydney meeting has been publicised across Australia by an indigenous TV station, NITV, by a satellite feed and internet to more than 180 radio stations grouped in a National indigenous Radio Service and a wide range of other indigenous and mainstream media.
“For non-indigenous Australia our continuing demand for a treaty often invokes blank faces, disbelief, confusion, or thoughtless rejection… or a bit of everything,” argues Yolŋu leader, Yingiya Mark Guyula, who’s just finished a week-long national tour of speaking engagements in Darwin, Adelaide, Geelong, Melbourne, Redfern and Sydney about raising awareness to combat these attitudes.
To pursue treaty Guyula says the ‘extreme ignorance’ of non-indigenous Australians needs to be addressed. Guyula sees treaty as a matter of survival. “It is self-determination and self-governance… or it is impoverishment, exile, chains and death.”
He points to successive government interventions that have failed to make a difference in the lives of indigenous Australians.
By contrast he says the Yolngu nation’s Madayin law system protects and defends community members. He dismisses recognition in the constitution as a “toothless tiger”.
Guyula will run as an Independent candidate for the seat of Nhulunbuy at this year’s Northern Territory elections.
The Uniting Church in Australia, the third largest Christian denomination in the country, says it’s committed to exploring the issues of treaty and sovereignty with its partners in the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Congress.
It was standing room only at the Men Speak Out For treaty forum held in the Redfern Community Centre on March 14 and organised by the Stop the Intervention Collective Sydney, reported the Green Left Weekly.
Australia’s first indigenous Senior Counsel, Tony McAvoy, a Wiri [central Queensland] Man, argued that a treaty would settle past injustices and build a better future. A treaty would have to include an acknowledgement that Australia was conquered not settled, and recognition of Aboriginal rights to self-determination.
It would have to involve land rights for Aboriginal people and reparations for land and resources stolen. It would also have to involve guaranteed representation in an Australian republic, environmental protection and changes to land tenure agreements.
Nurungga [South Australia] elder and Aboriginal advocate Tauto Sansbury said: “We’ve been fighting against the [Jay] Weatherill ALP government’s attempt to turn South Australia into a nuclear waste dump for the world. We thought the ALP government would be better but they are ripping up Aboriginal heritage rights and giving an open door to mining companies.
“Aboriginal people are recognised in South Australia in our state constitution, but it is just a feel-good statement from Weatherill, like [former PM Kevin] Rudd’s ‘sorry’. Black land is being taken over by mines and farms, and a treaty increases our bargaining power. But we have to stick together and know what to fight for.”
Awabakal [New South Wales] man and NTEU A&TSI Policy Committee chair Terry Mason said: “The treaty preference is rarely mentioned in government consultation meetings, but there is much more support for a treaty than Recognise in communities.
“I attended the Victorian consultation on treaty, and the government was surprised by the attendance. With minimal building from the government there were 350–500 people, with 39 clans represented from across the south-east. It was youth and elders, not just the radicals.
“The questions they wanted us to answer were around self-determination. There were no questions on treaty. Now, it’s been 20 years since the Victorian government last consulted the community about self-determination, so why should we trust them now?
“They also asked: ‘Is there a will in the room to discuss recognition?’ No-one put up their hand. A vote was taken and the people of the south-east unanimously voted against constitutional recognition.
“Now, 228 years on, the gap is widening on every front. But this country went too far on the Western Australia community closures, and black youth are rising up, joined by their white allies. They shut down Melbourne CBD, Sydney and Brisbane.”
Yolngu Nations Assembly spokesperson Yingiya Mark Guyula said: “Blacks are sovereign, not conquered, and subject to black law. We have declared a free Arnhem state within Australia, free from colonialism.”
He showed footage of the ceremony and said: “This is Black law in action via ceremony, whereas white law is simply paper. With the Intervention, Black law has been pushed aside, and now we have an increase in suicide, self harm, domestic violence and malnutrition.”
Gurang Gurang [Queensland] man and Stronger Smarter Institute chairperson Dr Chris Sarra said the humanity of the Black population has not been acknowledged and this has led to political abuses. He argued that both treaty and recognition are viable. “We’re still not at a place where our humanity is acknowledged in an honourable way,” Sarra said. “I don’t really want to get into a conversation about where it’s one or the other, I think we can have both.”
“It is this lack of humanity by new Australians that enables a circumstance where a policeman can cause the death of an Aboriginal man in a place like Palm Island and not ever be subjected to any serious consequence for his actions. It’s the same lack of humanity that lets a dog catcher from Melbourne who wouldn’t get a job anywhere else, go to a remote community and all of a sudden be a business manager with all the bureaucratic power in those places.
“It’s this same lack of humanity that lets a young woman die in prison due to non-payment of fines in Western Australia. The same thing lets governments send poor quality school leaders and teachers and other service providers to remote communities and somehow that’s supposed to be ok.”
In discussion, lead NSW Senate candidate for the Socialist Alliance Ken Canning, a Bidjara [south-west Queensland] man said: “We cannot possibly sit down and make a treaty with this government until they admit the atrocities of the past and come clean with the true history of this country and what was done to our people. The whole history has to be taught to all people in this country.
“This country also has to know that these atrocities are still going on today. Politicians are still living in denial of the past and of the present, and they do not acknowledge any of the injustices we have had forced upon us.
“Every single aspect of any form of alleged justice they have forced upon us has been to keep us divided. Does anybody think this government will start being honest now? They have stolen everything from us and kept us down. Does anybody really think they are going to give us anything more than lip service?”
Senior Counsel McAvoy said in a conversation with the nationally seen NITV “the time to push for treaty is right now”. “There is without doubt a growing desire within the Australian populace for some resolution with Aboriginal Australia.”
The key points of his address to the forum of more than a hundred people:
- A treaty is achievable
- There must be an acknowledgment that Australia was not settled
- The assertions of sovereignty by the British Colonies, and now by the Commonwealth of Australia, are flawed
- We need an Assembly of First Nations
- There must be land reform
- There must be changes to the land tenure arrangements
- There must be reparations, compensation and equitable benefit sharing
- Structural reform needs to take place at many levels
- There needs to be guaranteed representation in Parliament
Referring to the Victorian move, McAvoy said: “If we are to take advantage of the opportunity that has been presented to us we must organise ourselves. We must create a national collective voice that allows us to harness all the power at our disposal to ensure that this treaty process results in as fair and as equitable an outcome as possible.
“I have seen it many times, when we as Aboriginal people stand on our land with our ancestors there is a truth in our existence, and our condition which is undeniable. That is, we were here, and we have been subjected to the worst forms of genocide and dispossession and we are still here.”
McAvoy has drafted a charter for an Assembly of First Nations people and expressed the hope that it will form and meet in June this year in Darwin. His plan was just one of many in a wide-ranging two-hour discussion, open to the public and tasked with analysing the best way forward for a treaty.
The main question revolved around whether constitutional recognition and a treaty were compatible, the timing of a treaty, how treaty can lead to self-determination, and the need for treaty before a referendum on a Republic. The rise of the treaty movement at the expense of the Recognise campaign was a popular topic throughout the night. Australia is the only Commonwealth country that has not signed a treaty with its indigenous people.
Awabakal man, Terry Mason, attended the Victorian meeting and spoke about the need to learn from that process. He says the wording of any treaty resolutions are important to get right. “They used the term ‘Sovereign people’, not ‘Victorian Aboriginal people’, in the meeting, because they are not owned by the Victorian government,” he said.
He also believes there shouldn’t be a rush towards setting a date for treaty, but rather genuine grassroots consultation.
After the official speeches, an hour-long heated question and answer session with the audience revealed a wide-array of stances and opinions on how a treaty should be initiated. “Treaty means it’s the end of a war, but we’re not on the losing side, we’re on the winning side! We should not settle for some small thing,” said Roxley Foley, Firekeeper of the Tent Embassy Canberra. “We should not accept any treaty unless it’s a treaty of their surrender!”
Others had more straight forward considerations. “I can only hope … that you can engage with the local land councils in this process … that’s where the true power is, and it would be silly if you don’t tap into those existing power bases,” said one community member.
Warren Mundine, despised by most Aborigines because of his closeness to government as head of its indigenous Advisory Council, contended that recognition and treaty go hand in hand. A treaty would need to be part of Australia’s constitutional fabric in order to be successful, he said in a conversation with NITV. A treaty would need to be part of Australia’s constitutional fabric in order to be successful, he argued.
“The strength of treaties in Canada, the United States and New Zealand is they’re part of the constitutional fabric of those societies. We need to have that as part of the constitutional fabric of our society as well – and when I say ‘our’ society, I’m talking about the other 22, 23 million people in this country.”
Despite having bipartisan support from both sides of parliament, a large-scale media campaign to garner support from the public, and the recruitment of indigenous leaders to consult on the process, there is still no consensus on what form recognition would take.
Meetings between the government and indigenous leaders have failed to break the impasse over the past year, with those talks failing to come up with a question to put to the public in a referendum, making Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s hope of having a referendum by next year unlikely.
Sarra said: “Before white Australia gets freaked out by the idea of a treaty, I’d want them to understand that a treaty is a negotiated document. It’s one in which we both sit down and have the hard conversations that we’ve never had the courage to have before. Once we agree on what is to be the context of that document, then we both sign off. Against that background my advice or counsel to white Australia is, yes, the notion of a treaty and acknowledging and embracing our humanity is good for us as Blackfellas.
“But it’s even better for you as white Australians because you can move beyond living this lie that you’ve lived for the last 200 or so years. Then all of us can step into a new relationship that is honourable and honest.”
Sarra recently lectured in the Senate, Australia’s upper house of parliament, about how to advance indigenous policy.