Professor MARCIA LANGTON’s updated book, Welcome to Country, is a fascinating tour guide for those of us wanting to have an insight into Indigenous culture and travel.
The book covers a wide range of topics from dance, storytelling and language to cultural awareness, with the second part of the book broken up into states and territories covering festivals, galleries, tours and the like.
But in this extract we look back at a moment in 2017 where a meeting was held of Indigenous peoples and a hand was stretched out in reconciliation.
The first ever Indigenous Constitutional Convention was held at Uluru, in the heart of Australia, in May 2017. On the final day of the First Nations National Constitutional Convention, the 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander delegates agreed unanimously to support the ‘Uluru Statement from the Heart’. This is a document that was written at the Convention.
The Uluru Statement called for:
• First Nations’ Voice (‘the Voice’) to be enshrined in the Australian Constitution;
• Makarrata Commission ‘to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truthtelling about our history’;
• Truth-telling to acknowledge the history of Australia’s treatment of the First peoples. The word ‘makarrata’, from the Yolŋu languages of north-east Arnhem Land, expresses the idea of negotiating an end to historical conflicts and a settlement of grievances.
The NAIDOC Committee’s announcement that ‘Voice Treaty Truth’ would be the theme and the focus of the week of NAIDOC activities in 2019 reflects that these are the three pillars of the Uluru Statement.
The view among the majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is well expressed by delegate Thomas Mayor, a Torres Strait Islands man, who lives in Darwin: ‘The Uluru Statement from the Heart is a compelling and historic document, not just because of the joyous and hopeful national consensus that it came from, but also because it is a reasonable and achievable proposal.’
THE ULURU STATEMENT FROM THE HEART
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 60000 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 there, 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 60 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.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Professor Marcia Langton AO is an anthropologist and geographer, and since 2000 has held the Foundation Chair of Australian Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne. She has produced a large body of knowledge in the areas of political and legal anthropology, Indigenous agreements and engagement with the minerals industry, and Indigenous culture and art. Her role in the Empowered Communities project under contract to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and as a member of the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians are evidence of Professor Langton’s academic reputation, policy commitment and impact, alongside her role as a prominent public intellectual.
Her 2012 Boyer lecture series titled The Quiet Revolution: Indigenous People and the Resources Boom is one of her recent contributions to public debate, and added to her influence and reputation in government and private sector circles. In 1993 she was made a member of the Order of Australia in recognition of her work in anthropology and the advocacy of Aboriginal rights.
Professor Langton is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences in Australia, a Fellow of Trinity College, Melbourne and an Honorary Fellow of Emmanuel College at the University of Queensland. In 2016 Professor Langton was honoured as a University of Melbourne Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor. In further recognition as one of Australia’s most respected Indigenous Academics Professor Langton has in 2017 been appointed as the first Associate Provost at the University of Melbourne.