Wednesday, September 23, 2015

When writing takes it out of you

This blog has been rather quiet of late, and it has nothing to do with the topic I am about to talk about. Rather, a steady flow of work travel and speaking commitments has kept me from writing of late. I miss writing. As well as giving me the opportunity to rant on about something, there is also an undeniable benefit of exposition which can take place by getting stuff out there. I often say writing is my default mode of communication, and this is partially due to ongoing ear trouble which meant that as a child it was the method I gravitated toward most of all. But it's also the ability to gather thoughts and express them in ways unfettered by communicative forms which involve instant exchange. So I've always written as a default.

Tonight I imparted a small bit of wisdom to someone who was new to public writing and had written on a raw topic. It was this: writing in this way can sometimes leave you feeling completely drained and vulnerable, but it is more powerful than keeping silent. It's something I have personally experienced time and time again. There have been pieces I have written which have kept me from sleeping at night because they have been so close to the bone (even if they don't read this way) and I find I'm still processing the act of divulging this hours afterwards. I've not regretted writing these (though a year down the track I may shudder at what I've constructed) but conveying trauma or experience, in veiled forms and completely openly, can really take it out of you. And it's not just because you revisit traumatic experiences while you are writing. It's also because you leave yourself open for others to interpret, or misinterpret your words. It's impossible to completely prepare for that reaction from others.

I remember, for example, when I wrote openly about going through the experience of an ectopic pregnancy in Mothers and Others. For the longest time, I was unable to openly speak about that experience, let alone have the objective space to write about it in ways that could potentially assist others. Even then, I chose to modify the discussion. I omitted the related trauma of leaving an abusive relationship at the same time because I felt unable to revisit that experience as well. On writing about ectopic pregnancy itself, I feared being judged for my reflections on my complicated response to being in that situation. There is so much judgement around womanhood and motherhood as evidenced by the stories currently being shared on #shoutyourabortion that sharing a story of epic fail was almost mentally prohibitive. And I was terrified of committing that experience to print for thousands to digest. Additionally, in writing about that time, I mentally returned to hospitals and waiting rooms and felt helpless and hopeless all over again. Yet I wanted to impart it, because there is so much silence around these experiences and how damaging they can be. Ectopic pregnancies have literally cost lives. Therefore if my experiences helped one other person seek assistance or even process what they had been through then it was worth it. I didn't want to contribute to further silence on the issue.

Back in uni, I wrote a one-woman play (monodrama, really) called "Not One Nation" as part of my honours year. It was part political satire, part identity politics and part historical narrative. It delved, in part, into multifaceted Aboriginal identity, with a strong feminist bent, including the finding and strengthening of one's own identity in the face of social ridicule and ignorance. In writing it, I wove a lot of stories together from people who were kind enough to share their experiences with me. My hope was that through the combining of these stories, the piece would resonate with others. Yet every night before I went on stage, I'd chain-smoke out the back of the theatre curled up in a ball. After I finished performing, I'd be unable to speak for at least five minutes. I'd accidentally written so much of myself into this play that every time I performed it, it was like cutting myself open on stage and bleeding for my audience. I was revisiting my own experiences of trauma, of frustration, of rejection, of social ridicule, of craving of historical narratives long blocked. Yet every performance was worth it, not just because others related to it and were so amazing in telling me how it resonated with their own experiences. Rather it was because it also gave me a space to process these experiences and move forward. 

Funnily enough, this wasn't unlike any other time I took to the stage during my acting years at uni. Always I'd be drawing on the long-buried or the deep-down in order to relate to the characters I was playing and their experiences. While it might not have always been as personal as Not One Nation, there was always an element of personal exposition which performance assisted me with. Like writing, I miss acting and the freedom that I often felt while on a stage engaged in performance. Who knows; one day I may end up treading the boards again. 

The thing is, if I am realistic, there are many times when I've drawn upon my own life - blatantly or covertly - to convey something which is important to me for an audience to read in a way which they may relate to. I guess black feminist ranting actually lends itself to this because where would a want to explore ideas such as these come from other than a lifetime of experiences? It's fascinating to me that so often the writings from those who convey personal struggle and suffering are seen as not being objective views and therefore of lesser value than those who speak from outside these experiences. I mean, what are those who allegedly writing objectively conveying if not their own personal privileges? But there is power in writing in such ways. It can reach others in very real ways and it can also help with your own processing and healing. As we move through life trying to navigate its peaks and troughs, what could be more valuable?

So if I'm imparting anything, it is this: if you're writing from a real space, it will nearly always be difficult. You will always feel vulnerable and exposed and may very well need to take some time out to process that you have taken such a stand and shared such a chunk of yourself. None of this is bad. Indeed, for your own self-preservation it's essential. Yet the very things we tend to stay silent about in society are the things we need to talk about more. Our experiences can contribute to shattering this silence and assist others in very real ways. And that in itself is more valuable than we can ever imagine.

Friday, August 14, 2015

The Uluru Bark Petition - They don't speak for me

Today, thanks to the power of social media, I have come across this despicable act. I am so angry about it that I feel compelled to write something in the 20 minutes I have remaining in my lunch break. The above photo is what has been called the "Uluru Bark Petition" and it has been presented to government much to the gleeful hand-rubbing of the Liberal Party and particularly Senator Abetz. He has praised the group - which apparently contains about 30 people - for rallying to protect "traditional marriage" claiming that the campaign for same-sex marriage; which he believes wrongfully has only been around for about ten years; cannot hold up against several millennia of tradition. 

There are several reasons I am incensed to see this petition, and I will go into them shortly. First and most importantly though, it's because the Arrernte are named as being one of the groups of which support has been derived for this petition. I am Arrernte and I say plainly and clearly that THESE PEOPLE DO NOT SPEAK FOR ME. Indeed, I strongly doubt that they speak for many, if any, of the groups they have named and the fact that they have named these groups is a rude and despicable act. They have not consulted, they have not polled and they have certainly not discussed widely. They have claimed authority on this stance while having none and I am so offended by their actions that I am calling it out. 

I have seen some "Stockholm Syndrome" stuff in my time in activism, but this really stands out. And it is news to me from an Arrernte perspective that marriage between a man and a woman is tradition and that other forms of marriage would be an affront. Last I checked, traditional marriage in Arrernte customs tended to include polygyny as well as monogamous pairings and certainly, we were not unique in this across the country. Polygyny, as opposed to the broader "polygamy" is the marriage of one man to several women. So this "tradition" that the signatories, that Brandis and that the media are crowing about - does it stretch to include actual traditions or are we conveniently overlooking some practices in order to be compliant and in accordance with the wishes of our oppressors?

I am not a supporter of marriage in general. In fact, I would sooner abolish the marriage act entirely and throw the definition of partnership wide open so that consenting adults would have the right to register and get recognised whatever relationship they are in AND be treated with complete dignity in our society. I'm not going to win that argument any time soon though. What I don't stand for ever though is homophobia, and particularly the legislated homophobia which was written into the Marriage Act by the Howard government. I therefore want this removed and I want marriage equality to become a reality in this country. I don't stand for the homophobia contained within this bark petition and I stand with all the people fighting to make marriage equality a reality in this country. I also do not align with the despicable views of Pastor Walker and call on him to retract his stated views that “This is a cultural initiative, it is not a Christian initiative" as this clearly is not the case.



A Facebook site calling themselves "The Marriage Alliance" posted the below photo on their page. When I responded by posting a link to this blog, I was banned from the page within three seconds. Check out the language used in it. I'd go out on a limb and say it is almost worse.

Update 18/8/15: I have started a petition. Please sign it here

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Adam Goodes and the case of Jack Sultan-Page - a guest post by Daniel Jack

Hi all. I've taken the rare move of posting up something written by someone else on my blog. I had the privilege of meeting Dan - a proud Gomeroi man - through my brother Joel many years ago as they were part of the same intake for an Indigenous Cadetship Programme. Since then, Dan has become somewhat of an unofficially adopted brother. He wrote up this on Facebook the other day, and because I thought it was fantastic, I've asked if I can republish it on my blog. I hope some of the points he has made hit home for some. Thanks, Dan. I'm very proud to know you - CL  


                                                                                          Image credit: SBS

Adam Goodes is being booed as a result of him standing up to racism and being proud in himself, his identity and his culture. People did not have an issue with him until he started using his position to highlight some of the issues that Aboriginal people are faced with due to a history of oppression and ongoing inequality. Even worse he showed pride in his identity on national TV.

The Aboriginal dance he had the audacity to do within the AFL Indigenous Round incorporates some components of the traditional welcoming rituals some Aboriginal groups have practised for thousands of years. Take for instance, the Ngemba welcome dance. A dance that has continued to be passed down to Aboriginal people around Brewarrina since time immemorial. A dance that I have been privileged enough to be taught to perform. This theatrical dance includes the stalking of new visitors to country. The staunch Aboriginal warrior gradually gets closer to the visitors, trying to determine their intentions. He has his chest raised to give the illusion that he is bigger than he really is. He singles out one visitor and focuses all of his attention on them. The look in his eyes is intense and penetrating. He continues the stalk forward and then lunges at the visitor with the spear. With precision the spear comes to an abrupt halt just centimetres away from the visitors flesh. Upon seeing no visible threat from the visitor the warrior takes a step back, breaks the spear over his own leg and then provides it as a gift to the visitor. The spear rendered useless. The broken spear becomes a symbol of friendship, an acknowledgement that that visitor has shown humility and respect and is willing to act in an appropriate manner on the land that they are visiting. 

Fortunately Adam’s spear was imaginary as the majority of the Carlton crowd behind the goals would not have passed the ‘good intentions test’ in my view. Although Adam’s dance was a little different, the crowd had the unique opportunity to participate in this ongoing tradition. It was a gift Adam gave to the crowd, an imaginary piece of this spear. A symbol of solidarity… people coming together to respectfully cheer on their team whilst honouring the contribution Aboriginal players and culture make to our nation. Once again it was the Indigenous AFL round.

Unfortunately, people were too quick to put their backs up against the wall and miss the genuine opportunity of friendship that comes with acceptance and understanding. These people had the opportunity to embrace this experience. It is potentially a memory they could reminisce fondly about in years to come. They are in the enviable position of being able to sit their grandchildren on their lap and tell them “I was there.” Instead they chose to be offended because they didn’t understand it. 

Back to humility and respect, these are two values that are intricately interwoven together to form the fabric of Australian Aboriginal culture. Unfortunately these are also values that are fundamentally missing from the mainstream Australian culture. This combined with a lack of historical knowledge around Aboriginal people and history makes racism flourish in this country.

A large percentage of Australian people are not tolerant to difference and do not respect Aboriginal people, identity or culture. There are obviously exceptions to this. But in general, Aboriginal people are only admired for the physical skill we display in the sporting arena. We shouldn’t talk about the past, its current effect and ongoing issues. The only thing worthy that happened in the past was the ANZAC’s, just forget the rest; it happened ‘ages ago.’ Aboriginal identity is something for Caucasian people to put Aboriginal people into sub-categories based on their own view of Aboriginal identity. It’s not something we should be allowed to use to empower ourselves with. Aboriginal culture is only something to be exploited and flaunted to the world at events like the Olympics opening ceremony and for carpetbaggers to make millions off at the expense of Aboriginal artists. Aboriginal people shouldn’t practice this savagery, let alone be proud of it.

How dare Adam be proud of who he is! How dare he make the masses uncomfortable and have the inconvenience of being reminded that the wealth of this nation is a direct consequence of the dispossession of Aboriginal people. How dare he highlight that there are still Aboriginal people living in this country in third world conditions who have diseases that have been long eradicated in all other first world nations. Just kick the ball Adam, do what they pay you for.
Not to mention the negative role the mainstream media plays in reinforcing these negative views and providing platforms for pompous, privileged Caucasian men like Eddie McGuire and Alan Jones to be racial vilification subject matter experts. These are people who have never experienced discrimination in their lives and think that they are best positioned to tell people how and when they should be offended. Have they ever been racially vilified just going about their day to day lives? This is a day to day occurrence for many Aboriginal people. For instance, my mother in law was recently racially abused walking through the mall in Mackay. She was walking on the lower level when someone three levels above felt the need to scream down to her that she was a ‘boong.’ Disgraceful behaviour that is unfortunately commonly part of the Australian way, hating on anyone who is different. This is happening from the top down with our politicians constantly using fear for their own agenda. 

The blatant racism on display here is only part of the story. The fact is that institutionalised racism is rife in this country. In 1799 two Aboriginal boys were killed near Windsor by five Hawkesbury River settlers. They were dragged through a fire and one was beaten to death whilst the other was thrown into a river and shot for target practice. A court martial found them guilty but the Acting-Governor King was eventually instructed to pardon the men. Yes this was in 1799 but have things changed? One only has to look as far as the current case of the hit and run of 8 year old Aboriginal boy Jack Sultan-Page and see that justice is not a dish served equal. A Caucasian driver, high on drugs struck a young Aboriginal boy with his car, sped from the scene and went to lengths to hide his crime. As a consequence he was dealt the harsh punishment of 6 months home detention and a $2,090 fine. Surely Jack’s parents should be liable for the damage to his car? 

As long as there continues to be inequality in this nation, people who are in a position to hold people accountable should. I commend Adam Goodes for standing up for our people, being proud of who he is and for putting our culture back in the forefront where it belongs.

‪#‎justiceforliljack‬ ‪#‎goodes‬ ‪#‎adamgoodes‬ ‪#‎IStandWithAdam‬
Please sign the following petition to hold Jack’s killer accountable:

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Recognise - Their response to the IndigenousX survey, and my response to some misrepresentations

Tim Gartrell last week posted a response on the official Recognise site to the findings of the IndigenousX survey. I was on the road with work at that time, and didn't have a chance to read it until I got back. When I finally did read it, I was struck by a couple of things within it that I wished to answer. They are as follows:

1. I was referred to as "blogger Celeste Liddle". Considering that Gartrell was present at the panel on Constitutional Recognition at the ACTU Congress (though he doesn't make clear the details of the panel he refers to in his response) and therefore got to hear exactly what my roles are and why I was there, I am unsure what his purpose here is. For the record, I am the National Indigenous Organiser for the NTEU, I am a member of the ASU, I am a regularly published freelance opinion writer and I am an incredibly engaged public speaker. All this was stated at the panel. All this is easy to Google.  Perhaps this description was an attempt to diminish my standing (not that there is anything wrong with being a blogger, and indeed, I am writing on a blog right now) as an Indigenous commentator with background to her views. I am unsure. But it was limiting and inaccurate and people are welcome to read a copy of my speech from that panel here. If the piece on the Guardian is the "blog" Gartrell is referring to, then the correction here is that this piece was an opinion piece which was listed as such and filed as part of the IndigenousX series because I had been the guest Tweeter on IndigenousX in the preceding week.   

2. It is stated that I accuse "the Recognise movement of not listening to dissenting voices" in my piece on the Guardian. Actually I don't. In the very first paragraph of the piece, I level my criticism at the media, and it remains the source of my criticism throughout many of my writings. I had seen the media consistently replicate the statistics released from the Recognise poll yet continually fail to report dissenting views from the Indigenous population. I feel it is pertinent here to state that I did not write the headline for my piece, as editors do that, though I did rather like it because it is non-descript in its focus for "you'd know that if you listened". I then move on to level criticism at the parliamentary system which continually denies appropriate space for Indigenous voices in any real legislative sense while it continually goes public telling the rest of Australia what it is that the Indigenous people really want. The record of engagement from most parties is appalling and this has been the case throughout most of the history since Federation. Finally, I issue a challenge for the general public to engage with the Indigenous debates and make an informed decision if they are going to go to the polls and vote on our rights.

The reality is that I know damn well Recognise itself listens to dissenting voices. After all, they sat on a panel and listened to my one. Additionally, if you're going to travel the country talking constitutional recognition to mob, you're going to hear dissenting opinions from mob. My view here though is that while Recognise hear these views, it is not their job to absorb and promote them. They are workers with a brief which states on their own website "Our role has a very specific focus. It is to raise awareness of the need to end the exclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples from the Australian Constitution and deal with racial discrimination in it". They are not funded to promote Indigenous views opposing Constitutional Recognition, nor is their driving force the centring of Black Nationalist and/or pro-treaty views. So no, I don't really feel that Recognise, considering what it is and what it is receiving government funding to do, has a responsibility to listen to and reflect Indigenous dissent. I do feel very strongly though that the media and the politicians have this responsibility and they have continually neglected to do so. I am also highly suspicious of their motives for doing this and I am indeed cynical that a Recognition standpoint is the only one the government deems necessary to fund.

3. I have continually been centralised in Gartrell's response. I expected this to an extent, as I did write the Guardian article, and I did do the analysis on the IndigenousX survey response. Yet this is a misrepresentation of my role. I may be a consistently dissenting voice on CR, but to centralise me is, I feel, an attempt to take this away from the fact that this survey was in fact a collaboration which had its genesis during discussions from a number of IndigenousX people. The views amongst this group on Constitutional Recognition are actually quite diverse. Not all of them are "of my ilk", so to speak, and indeed a couple state that they are still on the fence on this issue. What's more, the IndigenousX account has played host to commentators from a number of political viewpoints and prides itself on doing so. So how did this survey come about then? Well, it's as simple as the fact that regardless of the different views of the people involved in the discussion, we all refuted the findings of the Recognise poll that 87% of our community were in support. We agreed that it had no basis in the communities which we each knew and were a part of. We were also aware that there had only been one question asked of the Recognise poll respondents, according to the media release anyway, and we wanted a more diverse scope for response which examined the different parts of this issue.

Gartrell is right when he states that it went via many networks on social media, some of which were indeed "like-minded networks of activists". It also went via individuals and non-affiliated groups. The fact that there may be some skewing of results because of this was acknowledged both in the analysis and in my article, though again I feel it is necessary to not underestimate the extent of Indigenous engagement with social media. Here's the thing though: it was an online survey and it was available to be shared readily. Recognise themselves could have shared it. Yet despite some of their supporters actually filling it out, Recognise did not promote it. Why not? It could have been an equally interesting activity for them to engage with and contribute to and it was certainly a form of "grassroots communication". There were no limits to the IndigenousX survey; the only purpose was an alternative means to gauge community views.

4. Finally, just to pick up a point in Gartrell's post for further discussion: he states towards the end "And some who declare themselves to be opponents of this coming referendum allow that they would vote to clean up the race discrimination in Sections 25, and 51 (xxvi). I’d note very respectfully that there’s only one way to do that – and it’s by having a referendum". 

As I wrote yesterday in response to this one point on my Facebook page: 

This statement couples the removal of the discriminatory sections of the Australian Constitution with the push for Constitutional Recognition. While the removal or amendment of these sections formed part of the expert panel's recommendations, and while these sections have been used to the detriment of Indigenous people, these sections are not specifically about Indigenous people. They are "race powers" and therefore carry the potential to be used against any racially marginalised group in this country.

If the government was remotely interested in running a referendum to remove racism from the Constitution, it could do so without the addition of a question on Constitutional Recognition. Indeed, it could run and fund an "End Racism in the Constitution" campaign and draw on visions of multiculturalism to achieve this. Yet they are not doing this. They are instead funding Recognise. This paragraph links the removal of racist sections directly to a referendum on the Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous people as if they are inseparable entities. Cynically, I can't help but feel that this is coercive. Indigenous people are being told that it is our responsibility to support a CR referendum going to the public in order to have a shot at removing racist sections. We are being held responsible for whether racism is an ongoing issue in this country, and not a government who has little intention of addressing it in any real way.

I don't feel I need to say any more on this point except that the government has made their choices as to what they're driving and it is our responsibility to question these choices.

Again, I would like to take the opportunity to thank IndigenousX for carrying out this important work, for providing a diverse community voice, and for giving me the opportunity to analyse the results of this survey. I would like to also thank the Guardian for continually supporting my writing, as well as Daily Life, for I never thought a voice like mine would ever get out there and create discussion. Perhaps that's the real gift: I am seeing more discussion. When I am hearing both Noel Pearson and Nova Peris - two people whose views differ from mine in many ways - noting the importance of the work of this survey, I feel buoyed and I know I am not the only one. The challenge is now for the government to find better ways to foster this continuing discussion.


Friday, June 19, 2015

My music - A reflection from a week on IndigenousX

I just finished a week-long stint of being the guest tweeter on the IndigenousX account. It was a busy week, in which much was done. Opinions were aired, articles were posted, bonds were made. I also, though, posted a lot of music. Music is my life, it is my soul, and considering how heavy shit has been of late, I thought I would post up a few of my favourite tunes. Both from IndigenousX, as well as a couple of others, just for fun.

Manic Street Preachers - If you tolerate this

This is a stock "social justice warrior" song. I'd like it to be our national anthem. This country could surely learn such a lesson, good and proper. Still as awesome and as poignant as when it was released.

Cocaine Socialism - Pulp

This was Pulp's critique on the "new left" in the UK. I feel this one constantly, when I see the ALP lurching to the right on their policies, or even the Greens not being as grassroots as they claim. The perils of the left being a fashion statement rather than an ideology.

Hairspray Queen - Nirvana

Kurt was a brat who liked to write nonsense lyrics to fuck with people. He was also held strong feminist, anti-racist, anti-capitalist and anti-homophobia principles which he referenced regularly. He was an anarchist. He hated fame. He was an ex-street kid. He was an enigma. He died too young and still is on high rotation on all of my CD players.

I wanna be your dog - Iggy Pop

What can you say about Iggy? He is "the real Iggy". He inspired Kurt and so many others. He just messed shit totally up, and his tunes hold up. As do the bangin' sounds of the rest of the Stooges. That a bloke can go from this to singing an entire album in French, proves his genius. Plus, this song is so damn seedy.

Rebel Girl - Bikini Kill

Part of the 90s riot grrl movement. "When she talks, I hear the revolution". Enough said.

Doll Parts - Hole

Yeah, they really want you, they really want you, they really do. This is a vengeful song. The other CL wishing a great big karmic bite on the arse to a bloke who wronged her; apparently Kurt in this instance, before they ended up properly together. After his death she apparently cried these lyrics. Courtney Love has been the victim of some vicious misogyny over the years, mainly because she married a grunge god, and I love the fact that this woman flips the world the bird.

Many Waters Rise - Archie Roach

I was recently asked for my favourite Archie song, and this one is it. He has so many more famous songs, but I love that this tells the story of three clans near Weipa, with shared history, living and working together since time began.

(Getting Away With It) All Messed Up - James

Nearly five years ago, I was in a head-on, high-speed car accident. I was lucky to walk away from it, but the injuries I sustained haunt me to this day. This song, which is about life going to shit and being able to move on from it, became one of my theme songs at this time. I listened to it for comfort. It's still a mainstay. 

That's about it. Thank you for having me on IndigenousX again. Hope you enjoyed my stay!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Speech from the Constitutional Recognition Debate - ACTU Congress 2015

The below text is a transcript from a speech I gave at ACTU Congress on the 27th of May 2015. The session was a panel discussion on Constitutional Recognition and was attended by about 60 delegates. Chaired by former Vic Premier Steve Bracks, and also featuring Tanya Hosch and Larissa Behrendt. The speech was 10mins and therefore does not go into great detail, so I recommend further reading on the topic.

My name is Celeste Liddle, I am a proud Arrernte woman whose traditional lands are in and around Alice Springs. I am the current National Indigenous Organiser for the National Tertiary Education Union and a proud ASU member. I would like to take the opportunity to thank the ACTU for providing this forum, particularly because, as I stated in an article yesterday, I believe that this has been framed as a black versus white issue with ultra-conservatives holding the "no" view by the government and the media and I therefore welcome this opportunity to discuss our various views, as Indigenous people, in this forum.

Following feedback from our membership at the NTEU, we have been one of the few unions to maintain a broadly questioning view on the idea of constitutional recognition. Our membership views have been vast, ranging from members who support Constitutional Recognition, or at least believe it could be a good thing, all the way to a sizeable number indicating complete opposition to the concept – usually on the basis of sovereignty. With a diverse caucus such as ours, we expect differing views and as a sector, we celebrate this trait of our membership. In 2002, the NTEU developed a “10 POINT PLAN FOR A POST TREATY UNION”. Enshrined in this document are “The rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members to exercise their sovereignty within Union structures” – rights which, as will be explained later, are felt to be in conflict with the current proposal for CR. There are other reasons though why the NTEU has maintained a questioning stance. One is that the referendum questions themselves have not been finalised and without knowing what it is that we are being asked to endorse, there is no good reason to endorse it. I am not here to speak completely about the NTEU stance, but rather to look at the “no” side of this question from an Indigenous perspective and to highlight some of the concerns, as someone whose own stance is on this side.

Resolution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sovereignty is important one and I believe it needs to be addressed. The 1992 Mabo decision should have served as a catalyst for this political resolution. That Australians are the beneficiaries of stolen lands which were never ceded by the original owners is an “unfinished business” and the impacts of this colonisation continue to affect our lives today. Yet despite community indicating that the issue of our sovereignty is incredibly important – 88% of National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples according to the expert panel report on constitutional recognition – it is not an issue that gets prioritised by the governments.

There is a definitely a view among opposing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that to agree to recognition within the Australian Constitution is for us to submit to the rule of the crown while there is nothing in place to protect our rights as sovereign peoples. The constitution was a document written with our purposeful exclusion and imposed upon our lands without our consent. The act, therefore, of righting this wrong by simply writing us into the document is interpreted by some Indigenous people to be a mere act of assimilation which would not address the fundamental issues with the document.

My views are in line with those who state that a treaty first between First Peoples and Australia is crucial. I believe that our rights need to be enshrined first. I am a unionist, I believe in the power of negotiation. I have seen examples of what can take place when governments have negotiated obligations to their Indigenous peoples. While I am yet to see a perfect example across the globe, the fact that the dynamic would switch from imposition to obligation is an attractive proposition. So many times I have heard non-Indigenous people deride Indigenous people by claiming that so much money has been "thrown at Aboriginal affairs” without these people realising that most of the programmes implemented involved paternalistic “top-down” approaches, not collaborative approaches designed to address community needs on an equitable basis. Our ability to self-govern is currently non-existent. We hold 3% of the electoral power yet only half of us participate in the process. There are few seats across the country in which views on policies regarding Indigenous affairs need to actually be considered by the candidates in order to ensure their electoral success. In short, we remain powerless in the system as it currently exists. The system therefore needs to change.

At this juncture, it is important to note the findings of the expert panel on constitutional recognition on the question of sovereignty, for the detail contained here is crucial at gauging where Australia sits currently in relation to its first peoples. Within the conclusion of this section it states, and I quote:

Any proposal relating to constitutional recognition of the sovereign status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples would be highly contested by many Australians, and likely to jeopardise broad public support for the panel’s recommendations. Such a proposal would not therefore satisfy at least two of the panels principles for assessment of proposals, namely ‘contribute to a more unified and reconciled nation’ and ‘be capable of being supported by an overwhelming majority of Australians from across the social and political spectrum.

There is a lot more contained within this chapter, but this one paragraph gives me pause. For starters, it pretty much highlights that Constitutional Recognition is a conservative goal by its reference to the fact that any proposal needs to be capable of being supported broadly by Australians therefore not centralising Indigenous needs and stating that including provisions on sovereignty would be divisive and lead to electoral failure. There is, therefore, currently no space for our sovereignty to be acknowledged within the Australian constitution. It also frames “reconciliation” as something that is not possible at this point in time if an acknowledgement of Indigenous sovereignty is included – a point which reinforces to me that reconciliation is still seen as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people assimilating into mainstream Australia, not the country transforming.

As an aside, it has also been pointed out to me that writing us into the constitution as “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples” homogenises our identities rather than recognises our own sovereign nationhoods and identities. The terms “Aboriginal” and “Torres Strait Islander” are not our terms but rather ones which have been imposed upon us. It was therefore argued that to recognise these terms in the constitution is reductive and could have serious consequences for our claims as a diverse people in the future.

Additionally, at this point in time we have state-based examples of how including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in these constitutions has not led to an increase in our rights and the esteem in which we are held by society. Here in Victoria, for example, an amendment to the state constitution was passed in 2004 acknowledging our “unique status as the descendants of Australia’s first people”. Despite this, our infant mortality rates in this state are still double those of other Australians and Welcome to Country ceremonies at government events were referred to by previous Premier Bailieau as “nnecessary”. When you think about the other states which have recognition contained within their constitutions – NSW, QLD and SA – and you reflect upon the status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, can you honestly say that this acknowledgement has improved things?

I feel one final point is warranted on this part: it bears repeating that while we currently have the recommendations of the expert panel available to us, we do not have the proposed referendum questions themselves. What has been touted in the media has ranged from just a statement in the preamble to a broader recognition within the document including the removal of the provisions which discriminate on the basis of race. The idea of us being included in the preamble has actually already gone to referendum as a part of the Republican referendum under Howard. This is an important point, as quite a few Indigenous people are concerned that should the proposal for change be watered down to just a preamble, it is just a repeat of this Howard era plan. Funnily enough, John Howard is not really seen as a key warrior in the fight for Indigenous rights… I feel that most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people support the proposal for the removal of section 25 detailing the right to exclude people from voting in elections based upon their race as this racist section has utterly no place in a country looking to move forward. Likewise, I feel that an amendment or even the removal of section 51 point 26 would be supported by most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and my preference would be that it is amended in deference to provisions within a treaty agreement. I don’t argue against these proposals, my only real concern is that should the referendum take place, these changes will not be on the table because we have a government content with symbolism as opposed to real outcomes.

Finally, I do feel that going to referendum in the first place has the ability to jeopardise aspirations for a treaty and the resolution of Indigenous sovereignty. Why? It has taken us almost 50 years since the referendum recognising us as citizens to get around to the point of addressing whether we also have a special status as First Peoples. My concern here is straight-forward: regardless of the outcome of the referendum, will we be waiting another 50 years before we see moves toward a resolution of our sovereignty. If the referendum is successful, will we get responses similar to what followed the Apology claiming that Indigenous people are never satisfied when we push for the resolution of sovereignty? If it’s unsuccessful, will that mean our recognition, in any form, is seen as a non-issue for this country, never to be visited again? I believe these are real concerns held by a lot of Indigenous people, for and against the proposal, and with good historical reason.

In conclusion, I believe that a transformative approach when it comes to Indigenous Affairs is long overdue in this country. Australia has a lot to gain from a more educated and collaborative relationship with the First Peoples of this great landmass. The statistics highlighting our disadvantage as a people, year in and year out, prove that things cannot continue the way that they are. We cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the life expectancy gap, the incarceration rates, infant mortality rates. We cannot continue to deny land rights. We need to strive to achieve a more equitable future. I don’t believe recognition within the constitution as a first step will achieve this, though I strongly do believe that there are ways forward which our governments are not currently willing to address. And I do believe we, as a movement dedicated to equity, have a responsibility to challenge this. Thank you.

PS As an additional note, I recommend reading the following:

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Counting Dead Aboriginal Women 2015

Since the beginning of the year, following a similar confronting poll which was run by feminist organisations in the UK last year, two polls have been running. The first one, tallied by Destroy the Joint, is entitled "Counting Dead Women 2015" and has been focussing on all women killed in violent attacks. The second one, run by Real for Women, is entitled "Man Murders Woman 2015" and specifically focusses on the victims of men's violence against women. Despite their different focusses, at this point in time the difference in the respective tallies is 1. 34 on DtJ and 33 on RfW. We are halfway through the 17th week of this year and based on the current trends, by the end of this week another woman is going to turn up dead and the tallies will tick over once more.

It is completely horrific in this country that we cannot go three and a half days without another woman being murdered. It is a national disgrace that this is not declared a state of emergency, a "war on women" and politicians aren't doing everything they possibly can to change things. It is astounding that the Prime Minister, who is also the Minister for Women, has instead sought to defund women's shelters, legal aid, and appears to not actually be remotely interested in women's issues at all. It is troubling to me that the media hardly covers this, that the public barely responds, and that where there is a murder/suicide, the numbers for suicide prevention lines are always listed, but not domestic violence support lines. Admittedly, it also concerns me that I can post an article up naming a woman as the 34th victim for the year and it barely gets a response. 34 women, no longer on this earth, and it's not really considered a issue in huge chunks of society.

Yet as these lists have grown, I have been scanning them; searching for cases involving Aboriginal women. I know other Aboriginal women have been doing the same. And the results have been utterly horrific. As it stands, right now, I can confirm that three women on this list are Aboriginal women, and I believe that there may be a fourth though am yet to confirm this. Of the three women I can confirm, two were killed by men (one an ex-partner and one an unspecified acquaintance) and one was killed by a woman. The links to these three cases are here in reverse chronological order:

25/4 - Brewarrina 
7/4 - Kalumburu 
12/2 - Broome 

In the case of the fourth woman whose case I am yet to confirm, her ex-partner was held in custody and was eventually charged with a breach of a DV order and drug offences. Investigation into her death continues.

29/3 - Alice Springs 

3, maybe 4. It doesn't sound like a huge number when stated in this way. Yet the reality is this: of the 34 women who have died as a result of violence this year alone,

between 9% and 12% of them have been Aboriginal women.

We make up nearly 3% of the population yet are currently represented in this list between 3-4 times what our population parity rates would be. What's more, and call me cynical, I have to wonder if there are more women out there we have not yet heard about or might never hear about. When you hear statistics like Aboriginal women are 38 times more likely to be hospitalised for assault than other women, it's really hard to not think the numbers might be higher and could still escalate. 

This is horrific and needs to end. Our government cannot be left unaccountable when it comes to their stripping of the funding of the very services which save women's lives. Mob cannot stay silent on this issue. So many of the good black men and women I know speak up and say it is not acceptable but regardless of this, there are those who, as Marlene Cummins stated in her film when describing a horrific rape she was subjected to or violence experienced by her and other women, say nothing. There seems to be a number of reasons why violence is tolerated - usually linked to racism - and this cannot be the case. This programme discusses some of them, though some views expressed are not my take on the matters, I do think with numbers like this we need to be talking more openly about these issues.

As someone who has left violence herself, I find it difficult to talk about this topic. The only time I really have is when I have made the argument that this is an issue of the patriarchy and that it is not just an issue in remote communities because our women aren't free from it in cities either. That and raising awareness on my Facebook page and including some statistics in my articles. I therefore have admiration for those who do speak about their experiences openly and publicly and maybe I will one day as well. This includes those who I usually have little else in common with. But the numbers on these lists are not going down. And with them we will see more Aboriginal women featuring in this list before the year is out. Even if the horrific trend of two women per week continues throughout the year, we have already surpassed the population parity rates with the Aboriginal women currently listed. This is why I am writing.

#stopthecarnage #womenslivesmatter #blacklivesmatter

Update 14/05/15: Yesterday, a further two deaths of women were reported, and of these, I am reasonably certain that this woman is also Aboriginal. This brings the potential total up to five or nearly 14%

Update 25/05/15: Today, a further death was recorded on the Destroy the Joint page. Due to the fact that this death occurred in Yalata, an Aboriginal homelands 200km west of Yalata, I have concluded that the woman was most likely Aboriginal. This brings the potential total up to 6 out of 39, or at least 15%. This equates to five times population parity rates

Update 09/06/15: Today, a further death was again recorded on the Destroy the Joint page - a 23 year old woman from Tennant Creek. Currently, the total recorded on DtJ is 43, with 7 being Aboriginal women.

Update 25/06/15: Today, a death of a woman in Hilton has been recorded. This death has been confirmed to me by someone who knew her as being an Aboriginal woman. She was known to be a respected woman who fed and housed many people and was a "pillar of the community". A complete tragedy. The toll now sits at 8 Aboriginal women of the 47 women in total or 17%.

Update 6/7/15: On Saturday, the death of a woman in Oodnadatta was confirmed. From my own follow up, I have concluded that this woman is an Aboriginal woman. The toll is now 9 Aboriginal women out of 49 women in total, or 18%

Update 24/8/15: This is a delayed update to this list. Unfortunately, in the past few weeks, the Destroy the Joint tally has continued to escalate reaching 58 women. Of those 9 women in the past 6 weeks, one is definitely Aboriginal and another is most likely Aboriginal. I am still endeavouring to confirm the status of this woman in Geraldton and if anyone has any additional information for me, I would greatly appreciate it. The other woman was from an Aboriginal community (Alpurrurulam) in the Northern Territory. This brings the toll up to 10 or 11 women, or nearly 19%.