NAIDOC Week celebrations (NAIDOC originally stood for ‘National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee’) on 7-14 July are held across Australia each July to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
NAIDOC is celebrated not only in Indigenous communities, but by Australians from all walks of life. The week is a great opportunity to participate in a range of activities and to support your local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.
We were joined by Dr Lynette Riley, Aunty Diane Riley-McNaboe and Shannan Dodson for part two of our NAIDOC Week event. They discussed the struggles of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in campaigning for their rights and recognition of their cultures.
NAIDOC Week: Voices for change
*Speakers: Marie-Louise Ayres (M), Tyrone Bell (T), Elizabeth Burrows (E), Michael Bell (Mi), Lynette Riley (L), Shannan Dodson (S), Diane Riley – Macnobe (D)
*Location: National Library of Australia
*Date: 5 July 2019
M: so I’d now like to introduce our panel for tonight’s discussion. Joining Elizabeth are Dr – as I speak your name can you wave your hand up so the audience know who you are? So Dr Lynette Riley and next to her her sister, Auntie Diane Riley Mcnaboe. Next to Elizabeth, Shannan Dodson and Michael Bell.
M: Dr Riley is a Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi woman and senior lecturer at the University of Sydney. She was one of the founding members of the New South Wales Department of DET Aboriginal Education Unit which created the first Aboriginal education policy in 1982 – same time as those Games going on – and was instrumental in establishing Aboriginal presence in universities. Lynette has a long history of working for reconciliation at the local level as Chair of the Dubbo Reconciliation Group and state level as State Chair for New South Wales Reconciliation.
Auntie Diane Riley Mcnaboe is also a Wiradjuri and Kamilaroi elder. A former classroom teacher she’s been instrumental in the teaching of Wiradjuri language in schools across north-western New South Wales and many of you will know that this is flourishing, it seems to be a flourishing program that you’ve got going there.
Shannan Dodson is the Communications Manager for the Pro Vice Chancellor Office at the University of Technology Sydney and an indigenous affairs officer for Media Diversity Australia. She’s also an ambassador for RUOK and a board member of ANTaR, Australians of ANTaR. I have to also just let you know that she’s actually in our collection so an oral history is in the collection.
Michael has joined us tonight from the War Memorial, Michael Bell has joined us from the War Memorial where he is Indigenous Liaison Officer and interacts quite strongly with our own staff here at the Library and among the Commonwealth cultural institutions so that issues of common importance, a listening voice, a supportive network can exist for our collective mob I think of them here in our cultural institutions who do fabulous work. So over to you, speakers, and Elizabeth, I’ll leave you to charge through and lead the way.
Mi: Thank you very much for that kind introductions. Now I’ve been asked to come along and I’m honoured to get the microphone further in front of these ladies because they’re full of knowledge and experience and commitment and dedication to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues and it’s been proven many a time over, you just have to look at their CVs and resumes so I’m honoured to help the National Library of Australia out tonight and get that talk going.
Thank you first of all, Dr Elizabeth Burrows, for your informative talk. It goes quite a long way back and it’s very informative but what I wanted to talk about tonight to get the boll rolling, ladies, in relation to – because it’s NAIDOC and Aunt, you’re on the National NAIDOC Committee. Aunt Lyn, you’re on the National NAIDOC Committee, how do you think picking the theme is driving the interest in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues across the nation? Also can you just take us through how the Committee actually picks the theme to guide us in relation to NAIDOC?
L: I think firstly what we try to do is make sure that the theme resonates with what’s happening in the wider community at the time and particularly to pick up what are the themes and interests that are really important to us as Aboriginal people. So when we were looking at the theme this year we were looking at the Uluru Statement and what was coming out of that in relation to the nonrecognition of Aboriginal people as having a voice nationally and that we were being dismissed in our concerns at a federal level. For us that can no longer be allowed to happen. I do appreciate that a lot of people thought that the NAIDOC Committee was just a reflection and should be a voice of the federal government and we’re here to say no, we’re not, we’re here to be the voice of Aboriginal people across Australia. So the theme this year had to by necessity - have to be political because we’re living in a political climate where they’re trying to again dismiss and demean who we are as people and therefore voice, treaty, truth is really important, that we always remember those key elements and make sure we really think about what it means to us in moving forward as a nation in this country.
S: I’m on the Committee with Aunt as well but I think also we really thought the themes were not just in relation to the Uluru Statement but also what they mean more generally so obviously voice is a really big thing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, having our voices heard and being represented not only sort of on a federal parliament level but on all levels, in organisations, in everyday life in the media. So we really wanted the theme to also kind of hit some points around generally where the conversation is at and obviously treaty is a really big issue that’s been on the agenda for –
Mi: Thirty odd years.
S: For hundreds of years.
Mi: How long? BC.
S: Yeah so – and I think also the truth stuff - obviously I think that there is a lot of truth-telling that needs to be done and I don’t think that’s actually about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people telling our truth because we’ve been telling our truth for a long time, it’s actually about the rest of Australia to come to grips with truth of the history of this country and to start actually talking about what that all means for us today.
Mi: Thank you. Given that response do you think that NAIDOC and the successful infiltration into mainstream society has become our most successful political campaign ever? And acknowledging that it goes back to the pen of William Cooper and his representations on behalf of us celebrating our culture and also having equal representation can you see that NAIDOC and would you agree that NAIDOC is a political campaign that has been the most successful? Or do you think there are other campaigns that have done a better job?
S: I think what’s interesting about NAIDOC, though, is a lot of people don’t know that NAIDOC actually started as a protest to Australia Day. So people don’t know that history, that actually it started as a protest and then the thought was let’s turn it into more of a celebration. It then turned into a weeklong celebration and for blackfellas, we’d like it to be yearlong, all the time celebration but I think it’s been a really successful campaign in terms of being able to get into the psyche of the Australian public. I mean – yeah, I mean in terms of a campaign I think it’s been pretty successful. What do you think?
L: Yeah, I think that one of the key reasons why it’s successful is that it’s accepted and adopted throughout a number of different organisations so all schools celebrate NAIDOC and if we’re going to educate people that’s where we have to start. It’s just so widely accepted that I know Diane’s been heavily involved in the school sector in running NAIDOC functions but for me it’s one of those key organis – celebrations that’s accepted as an educational program as well and I think that that’s where we really have to hit it.
D: I think when I do NAIDOC I do NAIDOC from July and sometimes in June all the way to December, going and supporting all the schools and the communities because they all want the same people to come and talk but they got to try to dilly them out a little bit so that they all get a little part of those people that have got the knowledge, those knowledge-holders that can come in with the dance and the song and talk about the weaving and the ochre, what ochre means when you put ochre on your body and all those cultural things that are important because you can’t do language without culture. It educates our children so someone that’s working in the schools and has been teaching on NAIDOCs for many years so I’ve been supporting that for – I’ve been doing stuff in schools for over 30 years, teaching my language and culture.
For both Aboriginal and nonaboriginal children to learn together, that’s really important. Our culture is worth surviving if you like and it’s worth them having that chance to learn about our language and our culture. It’s more relevant because it’s on the country where they’re living, makes more sense and it’s giving something back, it’s giving something back to the community but it’s making these people stronger so that they can have a more informed choice down the track and understand what’s happened in the past to how we can improve the future.
L: So I guess what Diane’s saying is that one of the things you can see through NAIDOC is that it’s – whilst it can be seen as a political thing at the federal level, at the impact on the local level is very much a cultural expression and so I think that that’s really important to understand as well.
S: Yeah and I think also it’s like – with NAIDOC I mean I joke about it being all year but in reality we shouldn’t just sort of silo indigenous stuff to one week and then not kind of have that celebration at any other time. So NAIDOC is obviously a really good sort of time where people can focus on indigenous perspectives and histories and cultures but that’s something that needs to be woven throughout the entire year throughout curriculum, throughout representation, the media. It’s not kind of just one week a year where indigenous people are allowed to speak and have a voice, it sort of has to be something that is peppered throughout the entire year. So yeah, I think that it’s also interesting thinking about how we don’t just move towards having this one week and that actually it’s about integrating it into what Australia actually means as a country.
D: It’s breaking down barriers too, it’s breaking down barriers and promoting understanding between Aboriginal and nonaboriginal people. I think it’s producing a more caring generation and understanding of what country and that means to us and how we have to look after country. If we can do that together we’re doing a lot of healing in that country. I have a little school just called Ballimore just outside of Dubbo and I taught the students a little song and they love that song and they love the dance that went with it and they’d get up on the veranda and they’d sing me all the way out while I was walking out of the school all the was to my car. As I got in my car they’re singing me up the road and that’s Aboriginal and nonaboriginal students and they’re real proud that they’ve learnt an Aboriginal language and that they can sing to me and sing me all the way out of the schools.
For me as an Aboriginal person like that’s just fantastic to see that, that the students and the teachers are all singing in our language, something that wasn’t allowed to be taught or spoken so when I was a child I wasn’t allowed to speak my language. My uncle, my father weren’t allowed to speak their language. My grandmother and her – the older people would speak in whispers behind the shed. My father knew words in isolation. My uncle could speak fluent [Radrianyampa] 47:37 language. He was a six-year-old boy, he was very clever and he could speak three different languages so English, [Radrianyampa]. The aunties and the grandmothers were so proud of him they thought wow, this boy is so clever – I’m talking about a six-year-old boy now – we have to send him to school, we can’t keep him at home ‘cause he’s too clever, we want him to learn more.
They sent him to school and he was at school and he got comfortable, he really liked the teachers and he enjoyed being there with the teachers and making friends and learning. He dropped in to speak in his language. That little boy got taken away for two years for speaking his language at school. So it’s really good now that students can speak their language without being taken away from their parents for two years because they were clever, okay? So that sharing and letting our children be clever should be allowed.
Mi: Thank you for that, that’s very, very deep and it leads me into the next little area that I’d like to get your thoughts on, ladies, is that truth and truth being one of the pillars of reconciliation and we’re looking at the Aboriginal truth and voice. Now as we said we’ve been speaking the truth – I think it was you, Shannan, said we’ve been speaking the truth all of our lives, it’s our truth but in this modern age of the digital world, and we’ve seen it up there in your presentation, Dr Elizabeth, in relation to the accessibility and the amount of information that’s now out there on the electronic universe and all of the [instas] 49:28. I'm not up to with that, I’m just learning how to use a phone. But in the old days and as somebody – and I’m going to be a little bit terrible here but the old forms were telegraph, telephone, tell a black. Now that’s how the grapevine – we all know the grapevine, we’ve got that community grapevine. Now how is that looking at the voice and coming through language and truth going to work together in – especially this year because it’s International Year of Indigenous Languages – how can we see that improving what we’re trying to do through all of these programs and also our national focus in media and also in education?
D: So Aboriginal groups right across the world are fighting really hard to have their languages and that not lost and to have the right to speak their language and practise their culture. We have nations from all around the world looking at what’s happening in New South Wales with the Aboriginal language legislation and what’s going to happen down the track with that. So internationally we are seen as that being important so I know Canadian Indians are looking at New South Wales, I know the other states around Australia are looking at what’s happening in New South Wales. I think it’d be a great shame and a great loss for any of those Aboriginal nations around the world to lose their language and culture, for us not to be able to share it and being able to go to another country and experience that, whether it be French or Scottish, Irish, Indonesian, Filipino, any of those language groups – or Chinese, Japanese.
I’d like to go – ‘cause I love my language and culture but I’d like to go and experience other people’s language and culture as well and I’d hate to see any of those to be lost in the world. So it’s very important that we celebrate the languages around the world but support them in being able to have them languages recorded and not lost and not have interference from English speakers take away the meaning behind those words that they use. We have a lot of our Aboriginal languages that have been lost throughout Australia. That’s why it’s very important now that we try to do something to save those languages because for Aboriginal people, without your identity - and language and culture is your identity – without that you’ve got a whole generation of lost people that don’t know where they belong. We’ve got a lot of suicide in our communities from young people and that and that’s sad, that’s really sad. We’ve had a couple of young fellows that we’ve lost this year through suicide and that and I hope that we keep fighting so that we can keep them young people with us and become strong people throughout our nation that can stand up and speak for our country for everybody.
L: I think for me when I hear the theme, voice, treaty, truth it goes right back to when Australia was claimed as terra nullius, the great lie, the great untruth and that if we can’t acknowledge that and what that has continued to mean to us as indigenous people and that as a nation we were the only country in the world that decided not to have a treaty with Aboriginal people, with indigenous nations and so that’s the great lie. So we need to really acknowledge that and sometimes that’s a bit hard for people to acknowledge and to work out how that has created a society of genocide and acceptance of that genocide in this country and we need to break it down. That’s why the theme is so important this year.
D: I don’t think you can look at Australia as being the lucky country when there’s been so many deaths and that and that acknowledgement doesn’t happen. When you’ve got people that say these things happened with Aboriginal people and then Aboriginal people being made out to be liars it’s very sad. It’s like someone who’s saying I’ve been raped. Oh no, you haven’t. Yes, I have. No, you haven’t. It’s the same thing. Aboriginal people need to just have their voices listened to. It’s just about respect, respecting those people so they don’t keep carrying that sorry business along and then each generation takes that sorry business on.
When Aboriginal people talk about things, and this is to do with language and culture, they no longer talk in the past. Once they start talking about and telling a story they’re telling it as if it’s happening right now, in front of you right now so that’s when you’ll see people start to weep and go through sorry business when they’re telling you stuff because they’re no longer talking in the past. If I had to talk about things that happened with my mother or my father or my uncle it’s taken me a very long time to be able to talk without crying over the things that happened with them and not jumping to that present storytelling, the truth.
S: I think it’s interesting what you’re saying about sort of social media and – ‘cause I think it’s sort of a double-edged sword because I think social media and the media, we have seen sort of – with platforms like Indigenous X on Twitter, also have more indigenous journalists and indigenous media, you’re being able to see perspectives from indigenous people that you probably wouldn’t have ever seen in the mainstream media or even kind of just out there. I think social media has helped to sort of spread those perspectives but obviously at the same time obviously it then allows anyone to have an opinion and so opinions can turn into fact so I think it is this double-edged sword. I actually think it’s more positive because we are seeing more indigenous people having a voice and being able to tell their stories and have their perspectives out there.
I think that we’ve been able to sort of talk more about this truth-telling stuff which – trying to get people to understand that the history of this country and colonisation is not just something in the past, that it has created intergenerational trauma that every indigenous person experiences no matter how old or how young you are because you have been passed on this from generations ago. You see that with any community that has suffered trauma, you see that with holocaust survivors. So it is an ingrained thing that gets passed down through generations and I think that a lot of Australians are starting to get their head around what that means and not just this whole rhetoric of why don’t they just get over it? Or everything’s much better now so just sort it out.
So I think there is more of a conversation going on about how actually we do need to be really truthful about the history. We need to be truthful about what’s actually still happening today because this is continuing to get passed on through generations. So I think that’s why the theme is really important because it kind of covers all of those very important facets of what we really need to do as a country and I think the treaty stuff is also I guess the sort of us coming together in this whole process.
L: I think the example for me of that is that you looked at the removal of Aboriginal people from their country starting in 1883 right through to the 1970s where Aboriginal people were moved and placed onto reserves and missions. What we failed to acknowledge is we’re not talking about one generation, we’re talking about between four to eight generations of people who were confined and controlled and the only other example we’ve got of that internationally is when the Jews were placed into concentration camps and there we’re talking about one generation of people. So when you say get over it you’re talking about eight generations, how do you get over it? You’re not talking about it happening to one generation and you might say that in some states like the Northern Territory it’s still going on. So how can people get over it? Let’s be real about the influence that we’re talking about. We’re not talking about it happening to one generation, we’re talking about it ongoing since the arrival of the British here in Australia.
Mi: Yeah, thank you. Those who aren’t aware of that it’s the white Australia policy. Have a look at that. But also moving forward into that, and you’ve touched on another topic that I want to talk about in relation to the intervention in the Northern Territory and we’ve got a federal government that suspends its own legislation in the Antidiscrimination Act to bring another act to once again care for Aboriginal people and protect Aboriginal people. So we love that word because it’s been used so broadly of our protectors. We nearly got protected into extinction.
Now in relation to the media that was covering that and also take that back, I want to go back to you, Doctor, I want to get your study into this ‘cause you probed some memories for me and relate that protest in 1982 in the Commonwealth Games back to the protests here in Brisbane about the anti-Apartheid Act in the South African touring teams. I know a lot of our university students and some of the older people that might have been here helped this protest and got locked up and it’s a mark of pride on their resume that they got locked up protesting the anti-apartheid.
So the – everyone remember when the university used to be free? You would have been in the protests. So what I want to do is look at that media coverage in relation to the anti-apartheid protests and also connected to the Aboriginal mission to seek recognition of our human rights and also our citizenship rights and bring that forward to looking at social media and how it’s going today. Have you looked in or would you be able to give us an appreciation of how that is happening in the media or in – does that relate to your study?
E: Look, I think one of the benefits of social media is that anybody can participate but as you said one of the dangers also is that you get lots of different opinions. One thing I was – in terms of human rights and Aboriginal human rights I was looking at the Facebook page for The Black Rising Facebook page and one thing I was really surprised about was how much time and space they gave to things like Palestinians, the Rohingyas, just the willingness to not just look at Aboriginal human rights but the global human rights of other people who are struggling at the moment as well. I think that’s true when you look back historically through Aboriginal media, they’ve not just looked at their own human rights and the need for new legislation or for it to be taken care of but the willingness to actually look at other countries.
I think one of the things that strikes me when I look at media across the globe, indigenous media, is the similarities, the stories are the same. If you look at indigenous people in Canada or you talk to people in New Zealand or you talk to people in Australia the stories are the same, the need for decolonisation, the way people have been treated. So I think in terms of how we achieve human rights in Australia, we have to look globally as well.
I was really interested in what Auntie Diane was saying about other countries looking at what we’re doing in terms of language. When I was in New Zealand a couple of years ago it really brought home to me how important the Treaty of Waitangi is in that Maori people and their – the protection of their languages, of their culture is part of their constitution. The government has to make sure that there’s – there are funds and time and resources given to ensure that their culture and their people are taken care of and I think that we can learn from that. I think Australia – I was stunned the other day to find out that Australia’s I think the only first world country that does not have a treaty with its first nations people so I think maybe that’s a starting place. If we want to ensure that people have human rights and are treated respectfully and we protect languages and culture we have to start there with the – with negotiating and talking about a treaty.
Mi: Okay, thank you for that. We’ll open the door very nicely, thank you very much, to the – a couple of topics that I’d like to get your views on, ladies, in relation to that is treaty, do we need one? Should we have one? What does it look like? But also in relation to treaty I want to see if a treaty would help us in either constitutional recognition or just fixing the constitution of Australia [unclear] 4:57 to stop it from being racist. You know there’s parts in the legislation that are clearly racist and they’re still there. They’re not used anymore but they still exist in our constitution but your thoughts on treaty, I’d like to see where yous are with that because I know that it’s a different experience for everybody and whether we have 575 treaties or one treaty with framework, it’s as broad and as wide as our languages and our dialects. So I’d like to get some thoughts on treaty and what your perspective and take on treaty would be. Auntie Lyn.
L: I’m just thinking back to the way in which initial research was undertaken in this country and by whom and that is that until most recently all the research that was done about Aboriginal people was done by anthropologists. So that meant that the research was undertaken to prove firstly that we didn’t exist, secondly to prove that we were the missing link and to prove that we had no real systems or structures in place and therefore that gave impetus or foundation to the Australian Government not ever having to negotiate with us. That’s a huge lie.
So what that means is that the government then has not ever had to worry about creating a relationship with us, whether it’s at a national level or at a local level. So – not that I’m promoting a treaty because I’ve seen how treaties have been misused with other indigenous nations right across the world. I mean we can count on all of our fingers and toes in this room how many treaties have been broken and how they’ve been misused to lie.
But I'm rather thinking of it as creating some kind of national framework that can be used at a regional and local level – sorry, at a national – because people still use the term tribe about us and we’re not a – tribes. We don’t have tribes, we have nations, they belong to broad geographical areas. We have clans and we have family groups, that’s how we operate. So the term tribe means a loosely grouped form of people with no real structure. That’s not us. We have nations, clans and family groups and that’s a set structure so there actually is a framework in place, we’ve got it for negotiation. So let’s use it. Let’s have some real negotiation happening.
S: I think Australia’s more of a sort of complex, complicated case study I guess for having a treaty because we’re not similar – we’re very different to New Zealand in the sense of we’re made up of hundreds of different nations, we don’t have one collective language and obviously that treaty was negotiated from the get-go and now things have progressed so much, we’re in a very different phase right now. Also the Treaty of Waitangi, the way in which Maori people actually drafted it, non-Maori misinterpreted what they had actually agreed to so the agreement wasn’t even – they weren’t coming from the same place for the agreement. So there’s obviously with any type of change or – there’s always going to be issues and complexities, nothing is ever perfect.
We’ve seen that with any change in history but obviously it’s better to try and get some sort of change in place than not to try at all because we’re worried that it’s not going to be good enough. But I think we have to be cautious that of course these things are complicated, they’re complex. We’re seeing this right now when it comes to treaty-making in Australia because we do have so many nations so how do you negotiate a treaty when there are so many different people and groups with very different perspectives and issues and competing ideas? So in Victoria currently they’re negotiating – they’re going through a treaty process and because of our history it’s a very complex process because not only have you got the issue of okay well if you’re a Victorian who’s from regional Victoria but you live in Melbourne what does that then mean in terms of you being represented? Are you represented based on where you live or based on where you come from? Then how are you represented in your place if you don’t live in your home anymore?
So it’s complicated and there’s no sort of silver bullet answer to what actually is going to be the correct way but I think that it’s really heartening that there are processes now happening in Victoria, in the Northern Territory, Queensland has been discussing having a process as well. In my personal opinion I think having it on that sort of state and territory basis is probably smart in – because if you think of how complicated it is on that level the complication on a national level is even more so. But I agree with you and I think that there needs to be a national framework, though, and there does need to be some type of agreement with the federal government about how they’re going to proceed moving forward in their relationship with indigenous people because at the moment there is no mechanism in place to have indigenous people on equal footing coming from an equal place of partnership to create and co-design and make decisions based on – for issues that affect us.
So that’s where the whole voice conversation comes in, this is where the whole treaty conversation comes in and I think that these are – they’re not things that need to be dealt with in isolation, they’re – we can walk and chew gum at the same time and so I think that these are all just very important pieces of a puzzle that we need to work towards together as a country.
D: You have to be careful that in something like that Aboriginal people have a genuine voice in this, that they’re able to all have a say in it, not just that you get a small group together as a peak body or whatever and that’s the tick a box. We’ve got a lot of that tick a box stuff but we want genuine negotiations and talks and to see Aboriginal people as people in this country, first nation people so we would like to have that voice. We’ve been slowly getting there and you can see some changes but we seem to take two steps forward and a couple more back so we need to have not the couple back but to keep moving forward.
L: It needs to be where we’re actually selecting our spokesman, not that the federal government picks the people they want to hear from who tell the story that they want to hear.
Mi: Yeah, we’ve come through the generation of media elders, I believe and we’re looking – did I say that out loud? Oops. What I’m looking – to progress that further and talk about – in my opinion I think that we have one level of government too many in this country so whichever level you want to get rid of I’d be happy to vote for. As long as I got the mate to take my garbage away I’m happy. But in relation to that and the buck-passing especially in education where the Commonwealth and the states can’t even agree who’s responsible for education and a standard curriculum, it was only 40 years ago that we got the same railway lines nationally, treaty seems to be a process that scares the crows away.
Are we looking at a turtle approach where they’re just starting to poke their heads out to look around and see that there are black people in Australia and do you think treaty will make them snap back in in relation to is it too much too quickly or are we going to look at as we did for the yes vote, a 10, 12, 15-year process to educate the community such as the reconciliation, million people walking on Harbour Bridge to start those processes? Do we need to slow down and say hold your horses up, just ‘cause you’ve got a state government that’s interested in treaty should we hang back so the other states can catch up or the people are comfortable?
S: I think the fact that the process is happening, it’s sort of – I think it’s going to be a steep learning curve and that I think particularly in those states and territories that are currently doing it, I think that they need to not shy away from the fact that it’s going to be a very difficult process and there’s going to be a lot of challenges, a lot of ups and downs and it will probably feel too hard and they’ll just want to give up. There'll be - I think also for our own mob, we have a lot of conversations that we need to have with each other too because we’re all suffering from hurt and trauma and identity issues and other issues within our community so throughout this treaty process we need to kind of confront some of those issues with each other as well. So I think that it is a very – it’ll be a very big learning curve but I think that they’re kind of like the guinea pigs, I guess and I think that it’s good for them to actually be going through this so that we can figure out okay, what works about the process? What doesn’t work? What are some things that we can do better?
I think that we’ve kind of been going through this conversation for a long time, we’ve kind of got to just take the risk and just go for it and then hope for the best and just – the treaty doesn’t have to be signed tomorrow. I think it’s a process and that we just work together to make sure that it’s the best process that we can possibly have. But I think that we can’t just kind of keep waiting around for decades and decades until Australia is ready because I don’t think Australia will ever be ready, I think that they kind of have to in a way be forced into readiness. Because any kind of change is scary but if change isn’t hard it’s not worth doing it.
Mi: That’s a good idea and I’ll do – that was going to be really interesting but I’ve got the big cut. You’ve had all your easy questions now from me, we’re going to open the discussion up to questioners from the floor. We’re going to have some people with some mikes running around. If you can – want to ask a question of the ladies please do so and maybe possibly myself if you wanted to but I don’t know much. It’s clear you’ve got a very talented group of people here and congratulations on assembling.
D: We’re happy for the men to have a voice.
Mi: Thank you.
D: Strong as we are.
Mi: Thank you very much, I appreciate that. But thank you, ladies, hopefully we can continue this discussion further and we can get some questions from the floor now so we’ll open it up to the floor and we’ll see how we go.
A: I’ve got a question and it’s in relation to music because it seems from – well I mean I wouldn’t call myself a Triple J listener all the time but I often listen to it and I am struck and pleased by the number of indigenous artists that are now recognised right up there winning awards, getting national recognition and they’re songs of protest music, it’s very powerful stuff. I’m just wondering what sort of role you see that in particular is playing in terms of educating young – all young Australians about the need to recognise the oppression of Aboriginal people and what sort of impact it’s having on young people in general today.
L: I think music’s always been used as a forum for protest for all generations and all people, it’s not specific to indigenous people. But I think that I can see that now that we’re getting greater acknowledgment of those voices in a really wider spectrum then that’s really exciting to me. One of the things I did this year was for International Year of Indigenous Languages was the first five minutes of my lectures for all the units that I was responsible for and for my team, we had to provide some language or music for all the students and we’re talking about mainly nonindigenous students and they were just amazed. They were like that really exists? Where do we get that from? We were just able to show them such a wide spectrum of music that they were just unaware of and it was great.
S: I think Triple J’s probably the only station that plays indigenous music. I can’t think of other mainstream – maybe would play Jessica Mauboy but like they’re not playing your Baker Boy or your Briggs or other artists that are having these protest songs. But I think it’s good because you’re seeing that music really infiltrate into that younger generation and people listening to it because they like the music and it’s got a good message. It’s just because they’re an Australian artist and they want to support that artist. So I think that – I’m hoping that that sort of just continues and it’s not just sort of a moment in time at the moment but yeah, I think that we have so many talented musicians out there that hopefully it will just continue on through generations because they have a really important voice.
Mi: Does that mean I have to stop listening to Fox?
Mi: Any other questions? Surely there’s some questions out there.
D: Don’t be frightened ‘cause we’re willing to answer anything. If we can.
Mi: The only silly question’s an unasked one.
S: Yeah, that’s right.
A: I’m interested in your thoughts on the role of allies and speaking up and speaking out for change and where do you draw the line between someone helping and just hijacking the message?
D: I think it’s if nonaboriginal hadn’t – where we had the – what was it? Ninety-nine per cent of Australia –
D: Ninety-seven per cent of Australia vote for us to be recognised.
L: In ’67.
D: In ’67 so I mean that showed that there was a big part of Australia that was willing to support Aboriginal people and see them as human beings. Before that we was flora and fauna so we could be killed onsite or – and massacred and stuff like that when we was flora and fauna. So after ‘67 when we were recognised as people, human beings in our own country, so to have 97% of Australians say yeah, they’re human beings, we should recognise that, that was a big thing so you can’t do nothing without everybody pulling together to do stuff. We could go away and try to do stuff by ourself but it wouldn’t work, it wouldn’t benefit anybody. Just ourselves and then it depends who’s going to listen to us.
S: I think that we’re only 3% of the population so we obviously do need other Australians to be allies in the struggles in the issues that we face. I think for instance I worked on the marriage equality campaign and I said to all of the people working on the marriage equality campaign that now it’s their turn to return – like their time to return the favour and that they all need to actually support indigenous issues and campaign for us. So I think that when it comes to being an ally it really is sometimes about taking a backseat and ensuring that indigenous people are being heard and having their voices elevated. But it is also about nonindigenous people ensuring that their voices are getting heard in the spaces that we either will not be listened to or that we’re not being heard.
So it is really important for nonindigenous people to call out racism, to call out prejudice and to talk to their peers about indigenous issues because sometimes that’s who they’re going to listen to. They’re not going to listen to me or any of this mob so there is a really important role for you to play in there. But also it’s about what can – if I’m an ally what can I do to empower indigenous people? Not to hijack the space but to empower indigenous people. I actually wrote a list recently that was published by Triple J and it was about 10 ways to positively engage with indigenous people and issues and so you can Google that if you want. But it is really about supporting indigenous organisations, encouraging your workplace to use indigenous businesses for anything. That can be for catering, for graphic design, for – our mob have businesses in everything that you could possibly think of so things like that. There’s lots of ways in which you can engage with indigenous people and issues and to do it in a way that’s respectful and as you said not hijacking.
L: I think that we can tell when somebody’s genuine and I would rather see somebody make a genuine mistake than to then genuinely not even attempt to be supportive or listen. That’s the difference so most of the people - in the university most of the people I work with are nonindigenous students and it’s the same question they say to me but do I have the right to do something? Should I just step back? I said well if you step back then we’re not able to move forward because I need you to help educate the wider community. So I'm educating you so you can get out there and have a genuine voice so that’s about you educating yourself so that you know what you’re doing and you don’t take over.
M: We have run out of time for questions tonight –
L: Oh there’s one right up at the back.
M: You were too far away, one more.
A: What I’d like to raise is we’re talking about treaty, now what’s that going to be based on? Is it going to be based on sovereignty? Aboriginal sovereignty? We’re going to be talking from two equals or do we continue this absurdity that we’ve been through for 200 years now? If you’re – Voltaire, the French philosopher, you had people believe in absurdities, they commit atrocities and that’s been proven many, many, many times over and over in this country. So how do we get these people to know that they’re morally obligated to correct this trespass upon Aboriginal peoples?
S: That’s I think where particularly on a federal level as well where it’s going to be really tricky because with a treaty it is about one sovereign group recognising another sovereign group and as you were saying because this country’s built on terra nullius about there being no-one here then what does that mean? Because we’re not recognised as a sovereign group so how are we going to negotiate this treaty if we’re not even recognised as our own people to begin with? So I agree with what you’re saying, it’s going to be a really tricky process and I don’t know where they’re coming at in terms of sovereignty in the state and territory processes. I don’t know what the conversation is around sovereignty but also I think you’re right, that’s the point. For a treaty you’ve got to ensure that you’re coming from equal positions and that it is a treaty which means that you’re two equal parties that are having a negotiation. So we don’t want it to turn into a situation where it’s basically just the government saying oh let’s just do this to shut them up, basically. So –
L: And it’s their agenda, not ours.
D: And it’s not there there, we know what’s best for you.
D: Okay, we need a genuine voice, we don’t need that there there, we know what’s best for you because we know what’s best for ourselves.
S: So I think it will actually have to be a very - there’ll have to be sort of a break away from the way that we’ve been doing things for a really long time because the way that the government has sort of been built and operated on is this whole concept of we know what’s best for you, we know the way that – this is how we will fix things for you and there needs to be a complete change of perception in actually just completely pulling apart that mindset. That will be extremely difficult to –
D: And the need to get away from that mission manager mentality of we know what’s best for you. The political parties need to realise that they’re still in that mission manager mentality towards us and not giving us a genuine voice, we need that genuine voice.
S: So the government is – if the federal government is to negotiate a treaty on a national level they’re going to actually have to accept and give up the fact that they will have to give things up. When you’re having a treaty it’s not about just one side negotiating and having to give something up, they’re going to have to give something up too and they’re going to have to negotiate and they’re probably – it’s going to be things that they’re not happy with or they don’t want to do but that’s what a negotiation is. So I think we’re very used to giving things up, we’re very used to having to negotiate and compromise on things so I think from their perspective it’s going to be very difficult to navigate how will we do this in a genuine way?
M: I was just going to say that tonight we’ve heard about that if change isn’t difficult it’s not worth doing and that the temptation might be to give up and that you can’t and as we draw the event to a close I just wanted to say that when we go upstairs, and I hope you’ll join us for refreshments, we also really hope that you’re going to the Treasures Gallery because there you will see something from a man who didn’t give up and that of course is Edward Koiki Mabo’s papers and in particular on display at the moment are his speaking notes for a speech that will begin the Mabo land rights case. We have some of Mr Mabo’s papers on display in the Treasures Gallery for that reason.
You might also like to see the We Have Survived series of posters created in response to the bicentennial by the Boomalli Aboriginal Artists’ Cooperative. So I think you’ve inspired us to find ways that we can help and not hinder, to step forward instead of not stepping back and really to kind of see how amazingly vibrant is the world of media that can push forward these messages. So guests, I’m sure that you would like to join me in thanking Michael for facilitating.
M: And thanking our speakers tonight so Auntie Diane, Lynette, Shannan and Elizabeth so thank you.
M: Come upstairs and have some refreshments with us so –
End of recording