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Public Forum on the Treaty
Public Forum: A Treaty with the Original People
On 10 February, a public forum was held at the Centre for Christianity and Culture, Barton ACT, sponsored by the Committee on Racial Equality (CORE), Canberra Quakers and two agencies of the Uniting Church – Social Justice Group of Canberra Region Presbytery, and Reconciliation and Multicultural Action Group of City Uniting Church. It was held to hear Aboriginal perspectives on Treaty and related issues. Around 100 people attended. The meeting was chaired by David Purnell from CORE.
There was a time of gathering, which led to a welcome to country from Guumaal Ngambri Mingku. A special mention was made of the presence of the High Commissioner from Kenya. David Purnell said that the meeting was also being held in memory of David Carline, an Aboriginal Quaker from south west Queensland who died recently after many years contributing to justice for the Kooma nation. David Purnell then outlined the program, indicating that each of the four speakers would have 20 minutes to speak, and that, following a break, there would be an opportunity for questions. He stressed that this was mainly an occasion to listen to Aboriginal voices.
Pastor Ossie Cruse from the South Coast of NSW spoke first, and performed a well known tune on a gum leaf. He has worked for many years as a church leader and tribal elder seeking justice for his people, and visits prisons regularly. He attended the Uluru Gathering which issued the Statement from the Heart in 2017. He said that truth and justice were crucial to ‘make it right’ between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. Aboriginal young people have for too long felt that they do not belong in this country, and the idea of ‘terra nullius’ remains alive among some whitefellas. For the sake of our children, he said, we must treat each other as equals in working out a viable future for Australia. A treaty (or treaties) is needed to help the process along.
Dr. Norita Morseu-Diop, Managing editor of the Malu Mai Wellness Consultancy and author of a recent book on ‘Healing in Justice’, began by singing a song of blessing. She spoke of her time as a social worker dealing with the consequences for Aboriginal Australians of invasion, colonization, and paternalism. Her work in prisons and detention centres has led to her to ask why things are so wrong, and why the governments do not care. The distribution of funding grants reflects bias against Aboriginal projects. She sees ‘treaty’ as a mixed blessing, given the experience in Canada and USA and New Zealand. Having our own Parliament like the Sami Nations of Norway, Finland and Sweden would be a move in the right direction, it would certainly give us a better/stronger platform to address the multilayered social justice and human rights issues impacting on our communities around Australia.
Judith Kelly, a Yamatji woman from Western Australia, told her personal story of encountering the legal and prison systems over her children. She sees the constitution as based on a ‘trading’ arrangement and as inflicting fraud, experimentation, and exploitation on the Indigenous peoples. There should be an apology from Britain for what has happened. Aboriginal knowledge could be available to all through deep listening and practice. Judith has a plan for a ‘consulate’ to represent the stolen generation and other displaced Aboriginal people. She sees a role for a separate parliament. Any moves for ‘treaty’ should include reforming the constitution.
Guumaal Ngambri Mingku (aka Shane Mortimer), whose ‘allodial’ title is in the Canberra region, used statistics to demonstrate how unrepresentative (and Anglo-centred) the Australian Parliament is, given the multicultural society we now are. The Crown is not entitled to ‘allodial’ title as it has no connection to the land; therefore a treaty cannot be made between the Crown and Indigenous Australia. Treaties have been dishonoured in other countries, so why would Aboriginal people here trust such an agreement? He referred to a recent talk by Uncle Kevin Buzzacott (South Australian elder) in which he said ‘all are one’. There is potential for coming together to form a different system of elections, parliament and representation.
Ideas emerging from the panel:
- A truth commission including people from outside Australia to help hear the stories of how
- Aboriginal Australians have experienced the colonial period.
- Separate seats in Parliament for Indigenous candidates (as in Aotearoa-NZ).
- Constitutional reform on a bigger scale than contemplated so far, to look into the entire basis for the model of government.
- An Aboriginal bank and similar business ventures.
- More opportunities for listening by all of us to each other’s stories.
- Review of legal system that leads to over-representation of Indigenous people in prisons and detention.
In closing, Moderator David Purnell reiterated the importance of listening, supporting, and travelling with, Aboriginal Australians as we respond to the invitation to ‘walk together’ to a better future.