Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders’ culture, history and achievements are being celebrated under NAIDOC (National Aboriginal and Islanders Day Observance Committee), during the first full week of July.
And this year’s theme is of “Voice. Treaty. Truth,” with the theme being an acknowledgment of what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have always wanted, an enhanced role in decision-making in Australia’s democracy.
The theme, “Voice. Treaty. Truth,” are key elements from the Uluru statement, which was an appeal made from the heart by participants. The statement was released May 26, 2017, by delegates to an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Referendum Convention, held near Uluru in Central Australia. The statement calls for a “First Nations Voice” in the Australian Constitution and a Makarrata Commission, (an alternative name for the treaty process), to supervise a process of agreement making and truth telling, between the government, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
National NAIDOC co-chair, Pat Thompson, says that for generations, indigenous Australians have sought recognition for their unique place in Australian history and society.
“For generations, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have looked for significant and lasting change. We need our fellow Australians to join us on this journey, to finish the unfinished business of this country.
“The 2017 Uluru Statement from the heart, built on generations of consultation and discussions among indigenous people, we need to be the architects of our lives and futures,” she concluded.
2019 is the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages. And it is working to raise awareness of the consequences of the endangered indigenous languages across the world, with an aim to establish a link between language, development, peace and reconciliation. This makes 2019 the year to experience the unique opportunity to hear the nation’s indigenous voice.
National NAIDOC co-chair, John Paul Janke, believes “it’s time for our knowledge to be heard through our voice, an indigenous voice of this country that is over 65,000 plus years old.
“They are the first words spoken on this continent. Languages that have passed down lore, culture, and knowledge, for over a millennia.
“They are precious to our nation and need to be celebrated but it’s our voice that needs to be listened to.”
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people want their voice to be heard. The first nations were excluded from the Constitutional discussions back in the 1800’s, they were not considered citizens of Australia until 1967, previously being recognised as a species under Flora and Fauna Law, and during the British Settlement were not acknowledged as the traditional land owners, but rather the land was recognised under the Terra Nullius law, no man’s land, until 1992.
Australia is one of the few liberal democracies around the world, which still does not have a treaty or some other kind of formal acknowledgement, or arrangement with its indigenous minorities.
For years the first nation people have fought for acknowledgement, and are still fighting for a substantive treaty, which is now the primary aspiration of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander movement. And for the first nation to achieve a treaty acknowledges their history and rightful ownership.
A lasting and effective agreement cannot be achieved unless there is a shared, truthful understanding of the nature of the dispute, of the dark and horrendous history of Australia, and how the first nations got to where they stand.
In 2008 the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, opened a new chapter in Australia’s tortured relations with its indigenous people, with a comprehensive and moving apology for past wrongs, and a call for bipartisan action to improve the lives of Australia’s Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. While Australia saying sorry is the first step into opening a new chapter, and acknowledging the truth of the past, there are still steps that need to be taken, and truth that needs to be shared.
“There needs to be healing on both sides. This can only happen by hearing our history and having reconciliation.” This is the sentiment the NAIDOC co-chairs shared when discussing the theme of “Voice. Treaty. Truth.”