This week has been all about the Uluru statement and finding the path in to take the Statement from the heart into my heart. During the 80s and 90s I was fortunate to have many tutors to guide me in learning about what standing in solidarity as a non-Aboriginal might mean. I remember in particular the late Sonny Flynn who taught me so much. His gentle and firm kindness set the foundations for me. He was the first indigenous graduate at the University of Adelaide in 1986. We served together on the Adelaide Diocesan Justice and Peace Commission and together wrote the ten point plan for the diocese to acknowledge and go forward in our commitment to reconciliation. One of the first things we did was get the Aboriginal flag to fly in the grounds of St Francis Xavier Cathedral in time for the bi-centenary of colonisation in 1988. We had an hilarious trip to Sydney in the back of a car owned by the Sisters of St Joseph as part of a parallel process the Catholic Church to prepare for the march across Sydney Harbour Bridge. When the convoy left Adelaide for that march, I went down early to the parklands to wave them off with a couple of my children in tow and knelt on the ground to send them prayerfully on their way. I held some trepidation there might be violence when they got there – as it happens there wasn’t – it was triumphant and spectacular. I watched it all unfold on the TV.
I was not yet 30 when the convoy set off. They were heady days and I was a young mother. I came to this movement late, having cut my teeth on the anti-apartheid movement and was embarrassed I had not paid attention to the issues right on my doorstep. Our household took the issues up and we had the posters, t-shirts, and modestly contributed to Pay the Rent and other campaigns. We literally had almost no money so I gave time where I could and had already been using the levers of the Justice and Peace Commission as I was Secretary in my first term and by now was Chair in my second term. It was great incubator for me to learn. Somewhere along the line though amnesia set it and I drifted away from this movement. While I had embedded many of the lessons in my life and practice I had not taken any leadership roles or pulled on any levers beyond what was in my immediate vicinity and sphere of influence. I drew most of my energy from musicians and artists and continue to take instruction from them.
I did get opportunities along the way these past 30 years and am deeply grateful to Jo Larkin and her tutelage while I was working at Volunteering SA and NT, where the Aboriginal Reference Group under the leadership of Bruce Hammond, who took over where Sonny had left off in teaching me and supporting my fragile efforts in the walking alongside. I am a trustee for a Foundation set up as a legacy of a couple of Quakers and for years that funded the walking together in reconciliation movement during the time, when it seemed like our whole nation was falling asleep at the wheel around land rights and recognition. So I know I haven’t been completely away from the movement, I did feel I woke up again this week in Logan at ChangeFest 18.
Since the Uluru Statement from the Heart was made, I haven’t known what to do in the face of the ugly rejection of our political leaders. This week has changed all that. Indigenous leaders clearly stated what they want from people like me and what they expect and gave us the playbook. They gave us the words and the actions and told us what was non-negotiable. I feel sad they are the ones who continue to do the work and have to keep pointing out to us what is to be done. The actions were clear – any national movement designed to create a more equitable and inclusive Australia must act consistently with the Uluru Statement which is ultimately about ensuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples are empowered and enables to be at the forefront of system change design and delivery; and this will result in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander led and control of services and programs; and we will support and strengthen treaty processes underway around the country. This is an explicit set of instructions which anyone can sign up for and in doing so helps shift power and systems.
It is so easy to forget, to not turn towards the arc of justice, to fail to take the step needed to go forward and instead mark time. Once again I am invited to walk alongside and once again I say yes, and I will actively inoculate myself from amnesia by listening to the truth-telling and following the direction of those kind enough to be my teachers in this way. From these foundations, agreement making can take place.
The lesson in self-compassion is to forgive myself for my forgetting and, like a meditator who has been distracted by thoughts, notice this forgetting and put it down gently and move onto the path that brings peace and justice.
I am being invited into some spaces this past two months around land-rights and sovereignty, some of which will involve being in some tricky and possibly sticky places. I felt under prepared and ill-equipped. Being able to call on the Uluru statement to guide me and to ground me is so obvious, I hadn’t seen it. The instruction to use this statement as an instrument to support my inadequate participation is a relief. It is also a reminder that sometimes the thing we most need to help us is close at hand. I am so grateful for these reminders this week, lessons learnt in the security, kindness and gentleness brings, wrapped in generosity of those who have been so hurt and continue to exercise their leadership in the slimmest of spaces. They found a place to open the crack and bring it wide and into the light, to speak their truth to power with eloquence and confidence, to not retreat or settle for anything less and with such grace. As a witness to this, I was deeply moved,and ashamed at my own complicity. This has been a week for reminders about what is at the heart of what it means to stand in your centre. Drawing up from the land and sea, the elements and ancestral spirits is a most precious gift and perhaps the only gift we need to walk together. A pilgrimage of solidarity and humility, if we accept the invitation. An invitation to healing and wholeness and one which can only lead to a more inclusive Australia. To walk in your truth, and be surrounded by others who walk with you in yours, is a great act of self-compassion.
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.