By Tony Andrews
I’m coming from a perspective of almost complete ignorance about First Nation Australian people.
Land rights, native title, pan-Aboriginal relationships, history, culture, political interaction with government … in fact, I’m pretty bloody ignorant about everything, except that I can clearly see things are not as black and white as we’re often led to believe.
The first sign of my ignorance is my understanding of the term “First Nation”.
It implies to me, a united people, and, whilst that may be the ultimate goal, I believe it does not reflect the reality of Aboriginal Australia and I’ve learned recently, that the people of Aboriginal and Torres Island descent do not refer to themselves as “First Nation” in a collective sense either.
They talk of First Nations when discussing all Australian Indigenous people, First Nation when discussing individual groups, a subtle difference that’s easy to miss, but it adds a significantly different understanding of the realities of indigenous culture … We often miss the little things that are crucial when it comes to reconciliation.
We hear talk from all sides of the debate about social problems and issues that need to be fixed, but when it comes down to root causes and solutions, we all seem to chew at the skin and choke on the bones.
I’m quite happy, if it comes to a referendum for constitutional recognition, to be led by our First Nations people and vote whichever way they want me to, I’m just not sure I understand what it’s going to achieve, though I recognise that it’s important to them, so my understanding or lack of, really isn’t of any concern.
What is of concern to me, is living in a fair society that protects the interests of all Australians.
Which is the whole point of having a constitution in the first place.
Some things are still bothering me though …
Can real self-determination and control over destiny be achieved by First Nations people without mechanisms in place to enable them to achieve financial independence?
Not individual financial independence, but in the collective sense.
I’m not suggesting the removal of government funding, maybe reparations would be a more suitable term, or government funded programs that have tangible benefits for the Indigenous.
Or even money derived from mineral exploitation.
But allowing those funds the opportunity to work for the long-term instead of the present system under which First Nations operate, seems to me like it would create a more certain and independent path than anything we’ve seen so far.
Many individuals and organisational bodies work tirelessly to improve the lives of First Nations people, countless initiatives have been implemented and, while the lives of many have improved, the outcome for others has not and, overall, the divide between black and white Australia seems as wide as ever.
Constitutional recognition may be far more important than we, with a limited understanding of the issues, are led to believe by those in the media and in government.
The past and present inability to bring our two worlds together is not through lack of effort or passion from a lot of those involved though.
It also doesn’t appear to be from ignorance because Aboriginal Australia has produced many academics and intellectual voices, created well-researched and developed assessments on all aspects of their existence and are actively involved in the political process.
Mixed priorities and an unclear direction may be an issue, as is knee-jerk policy-making from governments that are under pressure to be seen to be “doing something”.
A kind of shotgun approach to self-determination, where some pellets may hit the target, with the rest flying off into the distance, hitting nothing or inadvertently striking others that have no ability to protect themselves from the blast.
One of those protections, as previously mentioned, is constitutional recognition and our Indigenous brothers and sisters have collectively agreed that this is vital to our shared existence and coming together as a society on this continent … because they’ve seen it all before.
They have always been a political football.
Whenever they’ve been ‘given’ any vestige of autonomy it’s often been taken away again at the whim of elected government.
The Prime Minister’s offhanded rejection of the Uluru “statement from the heart” is a perfect example of why it’s so important.
When we say “the Prime Minister”, we really mean the political party he leads and the vested interests that elevated him to the position of spokesperson.
In the case of Turnbull, Abbott, Howard, and others from the Liberal or Liberal/National side of politics, those vested interests are strictly commercial …
The voices they listen to are the voices of business and business does not want the rights of anybody to be set in stone, this is why they do not want the Aboriginal people to be recognised under the constitution, with safeguards that limit the extent of power that can be exerted over them.
The same limits that we take for granted, but which are, behind the scenes, continually being tested by the high flying, highly paid legal teams of the corporate world.
Make no mistake though, that rejection will not deter them from continuing to fight for full inclusion in our democracy and the right to participate in all aspects of our future direction as a country …
It was a huge disappointment though to young First Nations men and women who are passionately driven and in a hurry to see their goal of recognition and acceptance fulfilled.
Young people of all backgrounds are in a hurry, which is great and is always a positive driving force for change, but the older people that have been involved with this sort of thing before, knew it would never be handed to them on a platter …
Power over the destiny of others is never given up easily.