Treaty push should replace Indigenous Recognise campaign
Treaty push should replace Indigenous Recognise campaign, says Yolngu leader
Yingiya Mark Guyula wants constitutional recognition campaign resources to be redirected towards convincing Australians about the importance of treaties
Indigenous flag painted on a wall in Redfern, Sydney
Yingiya Mark Guyula of the Yolngu Nations Assembly is calling for the efforts being put into recognition of Indigenous Australians in the constitution to be redirected to treaties between Australian governments and Indigenous nations. Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images
Non-Indigenous Australians need to be convinced of the need for a treaty over a “weaker” push for constitutional recognition, a senior Yolngu man has said.
Indigenous Australians want treaty, not constitutional recognition, says elder
Yingiya Mark Guyula, a Liya-dhälinymirr Djambarrpuyngu man, has embarked on a national tour to as a member of the Yolngu Nations Assembly. He says Aboriginal people need a formal recognition of sovereignty to help them develop stronger communities.
The Yolngu Nations Assembly represents tribal groups that make up the Yolngu peoples in north-east Arnhem land and advocates a split system of government, balancing traditional Madayin law with Australian law and government. It’s a model Guyula says could be strengthened and expanded if the Australian government agreed to negotiate a treaty with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Securing a treaty is a long-running feature of the struggle for Indigenous rights in Australia but has not been given serious consideration by government since 1990, when then prime minister Bob Hawke abandoned his earlier promise to negotiate a treaty in favour of a 10-year process of reconciliation. That was a compromise struck with the Liberal party, who refused to support a treaty on the grounds it would “create hostility within the Australian community”.
In 2015 the federal government committed to hold a referendum to recognise Indigenous people in the preamble to the constitution and remove racist clauses from the founding document. Those who support the recognition campaign, like so-called “father of reconciliation” Pat Dodson, say it is the first step toward securing a treaty.
Guyula represents a growing movement that says the resources of the Recognise campaign should be devoted to securing a treaty first.
“My argument is for treaty,” Guyula told Guardian Australia. “Let us go. Let us go. Give us that space to go, think and develop a way that was there before.”
Guyula will run as an independent for the Gove peninsula seat of Nhulunbuy in the Northern Territory general election in August on a platform of treaty and self-determination.
“We want our own sovereignty recognised,” he said. “Recognise our power, recognise who we are are, recognise that we were here before any law that came and ruled all over us.
“I believe we can work together if we can sit down and negotiate things, but it hasn’t happened … It’s been going on for 228 years now, when are you going to listen and sit down with us?”
Guyula was expected to address about 20 people at a forum in Geelong on Friday and another 40 in Melbourne on Saturday, before heading to Sydney on Monday.
Also at the forum will be Taungerong man Adam Frogley, who was one of the community members representing Victoria’s Kulin nation at a roundtable in Melbourne last month that unanimously rejected the constitutional recognition process in favour of pursuing a treaty.
The Victorian government promised to meet with Aboriginal people and discuss the issue.
The first step, Frogley said, was working out exactly what was meant by a treaty, an answer he said would differ in different parts of Australia.
“I am a firm believe that rather than a single treaty negotiated by the Aboriginal people as a group, there’s going to need to be individual treaties for individual nation groups,” he told Guardian Australia.
“It would need to be very much local, it would very much deal with the diversity of these different groups.”
The result might be something that looked like the Yidindji nation in far-north Queensland, where former journalist Murrumu Walubara Yidindji has renounced Australian citizenship, encouraging 60 others to do the same, and has met with foreign dignitaries as the representative of an independent sovereign state. Or it might not – the point, Frogley said, was to let Indigenous peoples negotiate the terms for themselves.
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Frogley said the push toward treaty would require an “education process for all of Australia” to ensure that it succeeded where numerous previous attempts had failed.
“I feel that it’s not going to be an easy path to go down, we are going to have to bring everyone along with this,” he said. “This is quite hard and I think it’s going to be difficult, but I don’t think it’s any more difficult than the process that the Recognise people are trying to run at the moment.”