Upcoming recognition referendum useless

Andrew Wright flatly opposes the upcoming referendum to recognise Indigenous Peoples in the constitution, and feels he should have no place in it.

 

Last week I wrote a tongue-in-cheek suggestion that we move Christmas to a time of the year that is more conducive to our enjoyment of the season. One aspect of my argument was that we should replace the referendum to decide whether this land’s Indigenous Peoples should be recognised in the constitution, with one to decide when we should hold Christmas.

One of the confusions that arose out of my suggestion was whether I am, in fact, against the Referendum on Indigenous Recognition. Let me clear up that confusion. Yes, I am against the referendum for that purpose.

My reasons are thus:

First, very well respected Elders of Indigenous Communities say so. At a panel discussion on the topic of Indigenous Recognition that was held in October, one such Elder, Rosalie Kunoth-Monks, was adamant that they did not want the “recognition” that was being offered as it has no place in our collective story. Auntie Rosalie made it clear that until there is a treaty that acknowledges that the land we now call Australia was taken by force from those who were here before, and a new constitution written, any changes to the current document would not be worth the paper on which they are written.

Second, what right do I, a white, middle-class, Australian man, have to decide this point? I have no right to impose my will on the Indigenous Communities, or individuals, by marking my piece of paper at the ballot box. Indigenous People should be the ones to decide if and how they will best be represented. I will say this, though: If Auntie Rosalie says no, you can bet that a whole load of people from the Indigenous Communities will follow her lead.

Third, there is too long a history of people saying a lot of words and not doing a lot of action, when it comes to the relationship between Indigenous People and the rest of us migloo. Too many times (Sir Gough being the main exception) the words that have rolled off our collective silver tongues have not been honoured. We have let these peoples down again, and again. We have made promises that have not been kept, and we have enforced our ever-harsher rules and judgements on them.

In addition to those times, like Kevin Rudd’s apology, when people have tried to do the right thing, there are still actions being taken today that are aimed squarely at subjugating Australia’s Indigenous People. Take the death of Julieka Dhu in Western Australia. Julieka’s death was the direct result of legislation that told police officers to arrest her. Her death was the direct result of laws that have seen a massive increase in the incarceration of Indigenous Women in Western Australia. What value do you think Indigenous people in WA put on Rudd’s apology?

And we wonder why there is tension between us.

Until we can stand back from this discussion and leave the time and space for Indigenous People to talk, alone, without our two cents being added, we will not see any sort of bridge-building happen. Until we can exclude ourselves from holding onto our “power over,” including hand-picking those who agree with our perspectives and silencing those who disagree, we will not see real change.

I am pessimistic about the viability of any program that is imposed out of white colonialism. I am skeptical about the words of any politician. I am angry at the co-opting of my name into a discussion in which I should have no part.

The time has come to stop talking about Indigenous People as if they are not in the room.

The Elders will speak when we are ready to listen. The Elders will speak when we are humble and willing to acknowledge, in more than a well-written speech to Parliament, that our ancestors got it wrong, that we have followed their lead, and that, in doing so, we have also got it wrong.

The time has come for white people, like me, to stop talking and start listening.

Husband, father, cyclist, teacher and writer. Andrew has lived in every mainland State, went to 8 schools in 3 of them, completed a BA (which took him 10 years) with double majors in English, and a Grad Dip (which only took him one year). Andrew is interested in Philosophy as a way of living a well-examined life, Epicurean thought as a way of enjoying more of it, and the essay as a way of expressing it to others.

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