The Australian First Nations Constitutional Convention wants their “ancient sovereignty” recognised meaningfully in the constitution “as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood”.
Their statement, issued at the end of their three day gathering at Uluru, recognises – as co-existing with this sovereignty that was never ceded – the contemporary reality of the sovereignty of “the Crown”.
While the statement does not give specifics, a “Voice” enshrined in the constitution would be, according to media reports, a representative body able to advise government on legislation and policy affecting Indigenous peoples.
The statement also calls for “a Makarrata Commission” which would “supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history”.
“Makarrata” is a Yolngu word meaning “a coming together after a struggle”. It was adopted as the name for an earlier push for a treaty by the National Aboriginal Conference, a representative body established by the Fraser Government in 1977.
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 60,000 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 therefrom, 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 sixty 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 alienated 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.
Below: The Central Australian representatives at the First Nations Regional Dialogue held at Ross River, which sent 10 delegates to Uluru, Richard James, Barbara Shaw, Geoffrey Shannon, Owen Torres, Valda Shannon, Pat Brahim, Jody Kopp, Rachel Perkins, Natasha Abbott and Damien Williams. The Regional Dialogue had supported having a representative voice to parliament and a treaty, as well as a statement of acknowledgement in the constitution, dealing with the race power in a way that prevents discriminatory law making, and prohibition of racial discrimination. (Source: Referendum Council website.)
The Northern Territory Government has welcomed the statement from the Uluru convention. Its response has been issued in a statement from Chief Minister Michael Gunner, Member for Namatjira Chansey Paech, and Member for Arnhem, Selina Uibo, as co-chairs of Cabinet’s Aboriginal Affairs Sub-committee. They say:
It is important that all governments recognise the [Uluru] statement as reflecting a strong call for new action from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
The Northern Territory Government looks forward to reviewing the full report when it is presented to the Prime Minister and Opposition Leader.
The discussion at Uluru included how we might progress the idea of a treaty, or treaties, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
This is something the Northern Territory Government will work towards here in the Northern Territory, along with our commitment to more local decision making.