From Reconciliation to Engagement

From Reconciliation to Engagement

smoking wadjemup

Carol Innes (Co Chair of Reconciliation WA)

carol wadjemup

27 May 2017

Wadjemup (Rottnest Island)

Good morning I would like to thank my brothers for the Welcome to Country.  I would like to pay respects to our Elders and our ancestors of the past who are buried on this island away from their traditional lands and my Elders present here today.  I would like to thank the Rottnest Island Authority through Ezra and Michelle for the invitation to speak at this event at the start of National Reconciliation Week.

In 2017 we acknowledge a number of significant moments in our history.  It is also a strong measurement to truly see how far we have advanced in the movement of Reconciliation.

Also, given the Statement from the Uluru meeting yesterday – called ‘Uluru Statement From the Heart’ I would also like to explore the future of reconciliation and engagement in Australia

We need to understand that this movement was the final recommendation of the 339 from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Many remain un-implemented – or under implemented – particularly the continuing over incarceration of Aboriginal people – of which the staggering financial costs were reported on a couple of days ago. Naturally, the report talked about economic costs and not the emotional and community costs involved in those figures.  Fortunately, we as a nation are beginning to explore its causes and alternatives.

sign wadjemup

To understand National Reconciliation Week we need to understand our shared history. This comes through strongly in the Uluru Statement

Reconciliation is about unity and respect between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and non-Indigenous Australians. It is about respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage and valuing justice and equity for all Australians. It is also about engagement.

It is about us coming together to work together to understand the true history. The history of genocidal practices child removal from family and community. To share this history with each other and we can begin to heal ourselves.  We can become better equipped to understand each other.  And in this process we may also become friends. Historical justice is critically important.

2017 NRW provides Australian’s with the opportunity to come together and celebrate three significant milestones in Australia’s journey to true nationhood, the 1967 Referendum and the historic Aboriginal land rights case commonly known as the Mabo Decision. This year we celebrate the 50th of the Referendum and 25th anniversaries of the Mabo decision; also yesterday was the 20th anniversary of the tabling of the Bringing Them Homereport.

The week is also a time for Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures and achievements and to explore how each of us can create and support local reconciliation initiatives.

The reconciliation movement is said to have begun with the campaign for the 1967 referendum in which 90 per cent of Australians voted to remove clauses in the Constitution which discriminated against Indigenous Australians. It was a campaign where people worked together.

50 years ago today Australian’s all over the country voted in favour of changing the Australian Constitution to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the national census and to give the Australian Government the power to make laws for people of the First Nations.

This allowed the Australian Government to make specific laws that applied to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to assist in addressing inequalities.

This is a very pertinent time for us too as we have had the meeting this week at Uluru of the First Nations people from around the country gathering to discuss the next Referendum on our doorstep. This for changes in the Constitution for the recognition of all First Nations peoples of this land we call home, this land we call Australia.  The Statement that emerged is one seeking treaty and engagement – not just token recognition or acknowledgement.

Next Saturday marks the end of National Reconciliation Week, the day that Australia will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the High Court’s decision in the historic Aboriginal land rights case; Mabo and others v Queensland.

The decision was handed down by the High Court, the highest court in Australia’s judicial system, on 3 June 1992.

The Mabo decision is named after Eddie Mabo, a Torres Strait Islander man who (with others) led a challenge to the Australian legal system and fought for the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the traditional owners of their land.

We speak our own languages, have our own laws and customs and a strong connection to our country.

British declaration of Australia as terra nullius (empty land – or land that belongs to nobody) meant that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ occupation of and unique connection with the land were not recognised.

The Mabo decision was a turning point for the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ rights, because it acknowledged our unique connection with the land. It also led to the Australian Parliament passing the Native Title Act in 1993. Today, native title has been recognised in more than two million square kilometres of land.

Indigenous Land Use Agreements set out arrangements between native title holders and others regarding who can access and use the land in question. These agreements play an important role in making native title work for all Australians and there are currently 967 registered Indigenous Land Use Agreements in place.

I would like to acknowledge the Rottnest Island Authority six year milestone of their Reconciliation Action Plan for a respect of the First Nation people better engagement to work on opportunities that we are today.

This place for us as a people is an island of grief and trauma a prison for our Men Elders from around the state. It is the biggest single deaths in custody site in Australia. It then became the popular summer holiday destination for families; and for many years our ancestors who lay here were forgotten about.  It was over thirty years ago that our Elders and strong activists wanted a change and recognition for this islands dark history.  Our states history. Our history.

The work that has been done collaboratively with Aboriginal people to tell the true story and acknowledge demonstrate a respectful engagement is very important in the journey of reconciliation.

For me this place was a very difficult place to come to visit. However it is through the changes that were made to have recognition of, respect and meaningful engagement development of relationships to include and provide opportunities so that we begin to understand each other and heal the pain of the past. to work together to create strong foundations to never repeat the past exclusion policies that still affect our people today.

In the article written for the conversation by Kerry Arabena and Melissa Carsten in May last year they say that:

There have been many achievements, disappointments and challenges since then in the process of healing the deep rift between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Reconciliation is not an outcome or a goal as much as a relationship and an ongoing journey. It’s vital for the long-term well-being of settler nations – for their identity, history, polity and nationhood.

We need to develop a new narrative. We need to understand the true history –  Our shared history.

There is a growing emphasis on engagement; we are seeing develop in a range of ways:

Reconciliation Action Plans, ILUAs, native title settlement agreements, the emergence of Aboriginal businesses, and lots of cultural engagement in planning and design, not to mention schools embracing cultural awareness in events like NAIDOC Week and Sorry Day.

In the Uluru statement it points in out clearly “In 1967 we were counted. In 2017 we seek to be heard’ – This is a call for engagement.

In Glen Stasiuk’s powerful film Wadjemup. – about the history of this place.  He alludes to its history as being a powerful tool in the journey to reconciliation and future engagement.  Glen has talked about Rottnest being the logical place for a national centre for reconciliation. I would suggest it needs to be reconciliation and engagement.

Maybe the way to commence this is to hold a biannual conference or gathering like this here today. When we return to evaluate progress, and dream dreams together and plan for a better future, for our country, our children and grandchildren.



Stephen Hall
Stephen Hall
Lives in Perth, Western Australia.

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