The Sisters of The Good Samaritan - Protection of Children, Young People and Vulnerable Adults
May 2018

“It has the power to bring us closer together”

It’s nearly a year since 250 delegates representing a cross-section of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from around Australia made the historic “Uluru Statement from the Heart”. But what’s happened since? Sister Val Deakin is calling on “ordinary Australians” to read the Uluru Statement and “stand firm with the First Peoples of this Land”.

BY Valerie Deakin SGS

It is almost one year since the First Peoples of this Nation gathered at Uluru for a convention to discuss constitutional recognition, and at its conclusion, made an historic statement now known as the “Uluru Statement from the Heart” (published in full below). It is a clear, direct and simple statement requesting our elected government to allow the First Peoples of this Land to have a representative body enshrined in our constitution to dialogue and advise our Federal Parliament on laws and policies, and other important matters that affect all of their people.

Once their voice is enshrined in Parliament they would like to go one step further and set up what is called a “Makarrata Commission” – “to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history”. The term “makarrata” is a Yolngu word which means the coming together after a struggle or conflict, facing the wrongs, and then moving on and living in peace. It was “makarrata” which helped the Yolngu people of North East Arnhem Land to maintain lasting peace amongst their people for thousands of years.

Having worked for a few decades with Aboriginal people, I strongly believe these two reforms are needed if we wish to move forward in a way that is just, respectful, constructive and life-giving for the whole of our nation. This reform proposal has the potential to narrow the gap between the First Peoples of this Land and the rest of us who make up this nation. It has the power to bring us closer together.

Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters belong to different groups and speak different languages. They live by different laws, customs and rituals, and practice different protocols for meeting, discussing and making decisions. For our elected government members to move forward in a respectful and fruitful way with these people, our Parliamentarians desperately need assistance from a representative body as suggested in the “Uluru Statement from the Heart”.

Sadly, our current government has rejected recommendations in the “Uluru Statement from the Heart”. By doing this they have chosen to continue to divide instead of unite our nation. They have drowned the voice and the hopes and dreams of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters who were so full of zeal after the Uluru gathering; and to this very day our Government continues to hold them voiceless in matters of great importance to their people.

As I pondered this rejection by our government I felt great pain for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters, and a poem, “A spirit divided”, written by an American Indian surfaced within me. It says things like:

“I am from two worlds –
And they both share the same sun.
I am from two worlds –
In one I walk, in the other I can run.
I am from two worlds –
Yet, both are a part of me.
I am from two worlds –
In one I am blind, in the other I can see.
I am from two worlds –
Each as different as day and night.
I am from two worlds –
In one I am Indian, in the other I am white.”

In place of “Indian” we could substitute “Aboriginal” or “Torres Strait Islander”. I ask myself questions such as: Why can’t our government of this day listen to our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters? Why can’t our government walk with them and see things from their angle for a change? Why does our government continue to prolong their struggle for justice in the land which is rightfully theirs? Why does our government continue to make their journey in the ways of the white-fella so difficult? Why is this so hard to do?

Why weren’t all Australians asked what they thought about the Uluru Statement? Why was the elected government – who are put there by us – allowed to make such a decision on such an important matter?

So many ‘whys’?

I hope and pray that we ordinary Australians will read the “Uluru Statement from the Heart” and stand firm with the First Peoples of this Land until our government comes to its senses and implements this Statement so that we can walk proudly and positively into the future.

 

ULURU STATEMENT FROM THE HEART

“We, gathered at the 2017 National Constitutional Convention, coming from all points of the southern sky, make this statement from the heart:

“Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs. This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning of our culture, from the Creation, according to the common law from ‘time immemorial’, and according to science more than 60,000 years ago.

“This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown.

“How could it be otherwise? That peoples possessed a land for sixty millennia and this sacred link disappears from world history in merely the last two hundred years?

“With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood.

“Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future.

“These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the torment of our powerlessness.

“We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.

“We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.

“Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination.

“We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.

“In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.”

The “Uluru Statement from the Heart” was made on May 26, 2017, the 50th anniversary of the landmark 1967 Referendum, and was followed by a report from the Referendum Council to the Prime Minister on June 30, 2017.

Valerie Deakin

Good Samaritan Sister Valerie Deakin has for many years worked alongside First Nations People in Western Australia and the Northern Territory. Until 2015 she was based at the Yanayi Aboriginal Catholic Centre in Geraldton as the Geraldton Diocese’s liaison person for Aboriginal ministry.

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