At the Phillip Island Festival of Stories, Aunty Munya was part of a ‘Conversation about Sovereignty & Treaty’. She was in great company with Kutcha Edwards, Uncle Shane Clarke, Uncle Jack Charles, Patrice Mahoney and Dr Tjanara Goreng Goreng. There was standing room only, with the hunger for more knowledge and a desire to help within the room palatable. The lead question to the panel was awfully complex, as is the issue itself. My take away however, was the simple challenge laid down by the panel – to learn more and listen. Below are some key concepts and extracts from a conversation with Aunty Munya.
Constitution: A set of governing laws.
Treaty: A contract between two sovereign parties.
Sovereignty: The independence of nation states and a nation’s ultimate authority to govern its own affairs without interference from other countries. Many Indigenous people in Australia claim sovereignty on the grounds that Indigenous people have never surrendered to the government.
Uluru Statement from the Heart: Reforms for constitutional change with a First Nations Voice in the Australian Constitution, and the establishment of a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making with Australian governments and to oversee a process of truth-telling about Australia’s history and colonisation. Makarrata is a Yolgnu word meaning ‘a coming together after a struggle’.
A Conversation with Aunty Munya on Treaty
We’ve been talking about a treaty for a long time now, over thirty years and it is very frustrating for Aboriginal people as it feels like we haven’t gotten anywhere. I think a big part of the problem is in the words – treaty and sovereignty. They are French words that don’t describe reconciliation in Aboriginal terms at all. So, for me, it’s all about the language. And the language is just simply wrong. Sovereignty refers to rulership of the land by kings and queens and barons and so forth. We don’t have that in Aboriginal society. It’s all about making past injustices right, or trying to reconcile them in some way. And I don’t think that those words or concepts are necessarily the way to go.
You know, we’ve always been talking about making sure that Indigenous voices are heard. People are still talking about us getting a voice. The fact is, we do have a voice. We’ve had a voice for hundreds of thousands of years. The question is, are those voices being listened to and are they being heard? And that’s where the main problem is, it’s not about finding a voice. It’s actually about listening to those voices.
For me, sovereignty is about bringing it back to the personal, as an individual, being complete and intact and not invaded by anyone. I’m talking about sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, all of that. So sovereignty is about the individua lstanding strong and their rights not being trodden on in any way. That to me is true sovereignty.
To make a difference, individuals need to become an ally to Indigenous people, listening to Indigenous voices, encouraging Indigenous voices, in the workplace, at home, in schools, and really listening to them.
I think we’re a long way off from establishing a formula of any kind that’s going to work successfully for Indigenous peoples. The main issue is who speaks for whom? There’s such a diverse group of nations in the country. Who are going to be the spokespersons for those nations? And how do we gain a collective voice? It’s going to take time but most of all deep listening.
So what next?
The conversation is diverse and complex, but I feel as an Australian I have an obligation to learn all I can, and most of all to LISTEN deeply to understand and acknowledge the truth.
Critically, treaties are inseparable from Truth. Lasting and effective agreement cannot be achieved unless we have a shared, truthful understanding of the nature of the dispute, of the history, of how we got to where we stand. The true story of colonisation must be told, must be heard, must be acknowledged. But hearing this history is necessary before we can come to some true reconciliation, some genuine healing for both sides. And of course, this is not just the history of our First Peoples – it is the history of all of us, of all of Australia, and we need to own it. Then we can move forward together.
I highly recommendRichard Flanagan’s address to the Press Club:‘Our politics is a dreadful black comedy’. Even though I first read it last year, his words still resonate deeply, and I will leave you with this:
We have turned our back on this profound truth again and again, because to acknowledge it is also to acknowledge the other great truth of Australia: that the prosperity of contemporary Australia was built on the destruction of countless Indigenous lives up to the present day, and with them dreamings, songlines, languages, alternative ways of comprehending not only our extraordinary country but the very cosmos…..We are in the first instance a society that begins in deep time. That is the bedrock of our civilisation as Australians, our birthright, and if we would accept it, rather than spurn it, we might discover so many new possibilities for ourselves as a people. The gift we are being offered is vast; the patrimony of 60,000 years, and with it the possibilities for the future that it opens up to us. We can choose to have our beginning and our centre in Indigenous culture. Or we can choose to walk away, into a misty world of lies and evasions, pregnant with the possibility of future catastrophe.
What are your thoughts on Voice. Treaty. Truth? Do you feel you have a role to play?
References and Further Reading:
(c) Evolve Communities, 2019