Call for action during National Reconciliation Week
Saturday, 29th May, 2021
By By Nardia Keenan
Local Aboriginal women shared some compelling stories and insights of systemic issues during a lunch at the Civic Centre to commemorate National Reconciliation Week.
Sandra Clark is a Wilyakali woman who was born in Broken Hill but grew up in Wilcannia.
She moved to Albury at the age of 11 for assimilation into white culture through education.
“Dad was very political, a great writer and he believed in education,” she said.
“He always told us that we had to put down our spears now as hunters and gatherers and warriors and we had to use the white man’s stick, which was education.” Sandra used her education to work at Alma Primary school for 26 years, including as a teacher. While she receives a lot of support, some people are uncomfortable about the recent Aboriginal version of history included in the curriculum.
“Now they know how we felt at school.”
“And still feel,” added Denise Hampton, a Barkandji woman who grew up in Wilcannia in the Mallee in a tin shack. Her Hampton family experienced deaths in custody when Denise was only 10 years old.
Corina Kemp is a Barkandji woman who lost her father in childhood because of a death in custody and Denise wants to know why this is still a pressing issue decades after and what the nation can do to address it.
The women welcomed the theme for NRW 2021 which was ‘More Than a Word. Reconciliation Takes Action’.
The dates for NRW are the same each year, May 27 to June 3, and these dates commemorate two significant milestones in the reconciliation journey.
The 1967 referendum on May 27, 1967 was Australia’s most successful referendum. More than 90 per cent of Australians voted to give the Australian Government power to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and to recognise them in the Census.
The second significant date was for the High Court Mabo decision.
On June 3, 1992 the Australian High Court delivered the Mabo decision about Eddie Koiki Mabo’s challenge to the legal fiction of ‘terra nullius’ (land belonging to no-one).
This led to the legal recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of lands and paved the way for Native Title.
Due to the Aboriginal Land Rights Act of 1983, compensation was paid for all aboriginal people in NSW for the loss of their land.
Denise considers it was one of the best pieces of legislation until amendments made in 1986 removed the very important clause that would have allowed communities to develop by being able to buy, sell and mortgage.
The compensation money is still tied to government.
It was paid over a 15 year period but had to be invested and Aboriginal people could only utilise the interest that was made off that investment, which was 7.5 per cent of land tax.
Denise believes that the outcome of economic development of Aboriginal people is not self-determined.
“We don’t have full control over it because everything we try to do has to go back to the Minister to be signed off.
“Until we can make decisions around what our community needs are, we’ll never get there.”
Sandra views government funding for Native Title, land rights and Aboriginal corporations as divisive for Aboriginal families, communities and as a nation.
“A lot of our people see it as the government chucking a bone out and community fight over that bone.”
Denise said that, prior to government funding, Aboriginal culture was loving, caring and sharing.
“Now, as Aboriginal people we walk in two worlds.”
Sandra maintains that Aboriginal children can’t be treated the same as white children at school.
“As soon as they step through that school gate, they know that there’s a different system, a different culture that they have to learn.
“So they become code-switchers.”
According to Denise, a learned behaviour is domestic violence, which is not a part of traditional Aboriginal culture.
“Our people had their own laws for dealing with everything and their business was discussed in the morning.
“It was dealt with, then people would go off and do their jobs, like hunting or gathering or whatever they had to do.”
Denise said that the lengthy system of justice in modern Australia adds stress and sets up a cycle for re-offending.
“It lingers on with the white man’s law as they’ve got to go through the court process for months.
“Whereas if you punished them straightaway it’s over and done with and you’ve moved on.”
Denise wants it remembered that Aboriginal people have been governed by policies but they need to be the right ones.
She wants designers and implementers of policies to refer to the 2007 United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to include aboriginal people, especially regarding land use and management.
“Our people have been doing those things for many, many years such as fire sticks for burning and looking after country.”
Denise sees that creating equality is about more than good policies.
“Given that we’re only 3.3 per cent of the Australian population, the message is that we need everyone on board to bring about that change.”
To learn more about National Reconciliation Week and how all Australians can take small steps towards equality, visit https://nrw.reconciliation.org.au