Page 2469 - Week 07 - Thursday, 3 August 2017

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Acknowledging these truths can play an important role in the reconciliation process and, as the Uluru statement notes, the underlying issues within each of these statements need to be worked through. This may be through a truth and reconciliation commission—as has occurred in other nations, including Canada and South Africa—or some other way. Regardless of the mechanism, as a nation we need to acknowledge historical grievances and provide a forum to resolve them in order to move forward together.

As the final report of the Referendum Council says, we have not yet made these truths part of our Australian history or our Australian story. Truth and reconciliation is also important to help non-Indigenous Australians get a deeper understanding of what it means to walk in two worlds. The Uluru statement lays out a vision where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will have power over their own destiny and where first nations children will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.

To better understand this idea, I have drawn on the words of Galarrwuy Yunupingu, leader of the Gumatj clan, 1978 Australian of the Year and member of the Referendum Council, who wrote about this idea in his essay “Rom Watangu” in The Monthly last year. He wrote:

My father had to sacrifice much, too much, to reconcile his life with the ways of the modern world. But he did so. What Aboriginal people ask is that the modern world now makes the sacrifices necessary to give us a real future. To relax its grip on us. To let us breathe, to let us be free of the determined control exerted on us to make us like you. And you should take that a step further and recognise us for who we are, and not who you want us to be. Let us be who we are—Aboriginal people in a modern world—and be proud of us. Acknowledge that we have survived the worst that the past had thrown at us, and we are here with our songs, our ceremonies, our land, our language and our people—our full identity. What a gift this is that we can give you, if you choose to accept us in a meaningful way.

We need to work together to ensure that our local communities and broader society understand and cater for the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. While much of our constitutional system, our system of government, the rule of law and our public institutions were inherited from Britain, they now exist for the benefit of all Australians, including the first peoples.

Our national day of celebration is one example that I will use here. For many Australians, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, 26 January is not a day of celebration but is seen as a day which commemorates the invasion by British settlers of lands already owned. Whether you view British colonisation as a settlement or an invasion, the reality is that these two perspectives exist and therefore the marking of Australia Day on January 26 means that this day cannot be one that unifies our country. The campaign to change the date is growing louder every year. I hope we can find a date that allows Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to walk in both worlds and celebrate our national day alongside non-Indigenous Australians.

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