What do we mean by Reconciliation?

Discussion on Monday 8 July 2019, in NAIDOC Week, at King O’Malleys

On Monday 8 July, ANTaR ACT hosted a discussion around the concept of reconciliation with the co-chairs of the ACT Reconciliation Council, Chris Bourke and Genevieve Jacobs.

Chris started by talking about the formation of the Reconciliation Council, six weeks before the first ACT Reconciliation Day in 2018. The ACT Government had planned events, but this was not to be a celebration of reconciliation, but rather a basis for having a conversation about what is reconciliation, and the Council’s role was to promote that conversation.

Chris talked about what reconciliation can mean given colonisation – the profound dispossession, dispersal and trauma experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people. There is a continuing power imbalance, as can be seen in the Commonwealth Government initial response to rejecting key components of the Uluru Statement from the Heart without discussion.

Genevieve talked about what her personal reflections and understanding, of having this shared history and acknowledging the great wrongs done, as well as the survival and resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. She talked about the connections that she has made and what she has learnt, including meeting with the Ngunnawal elders, and a conversation with Aunty Roslyn about renaming of Canberra’s landmarks (see more in this Riot-ACT article: Ngunnawal elders call to rename Mt Ainslie, Black Mountain, other Canberra landmarks).

There were many issues raised in the discussion that followed including:

  • Should there be a treaty in the ACT?
    This led to a broader discussion about the importance of agreement making versus service delivery. Within the ACT, we do not have any successful native title applications (given the stringent requirements to be met), but we do have the ACT Indigenous Elected Body, which has a focus on service delivery. Whether there should be treat in the ACT would depend on the priorities of the Ngunnawal community, and others with connections to the region.
  • We also noted the recent news of the removal of two scarred trees in the ACT. This was particularly of concern for ANTaR ACT committee members, as we had visited many of the trees early in 2017, as described in this article. This is an issue that ANTaR ACT will take up, with the committee drafting a letter to the responsible minister.
  • How to respond when colleagues say that an Acknowledgement of Country is tokenism?
    The conversation focussed on finding out more what an acknowledgement means, talking to elders about its significance. We also explored ways to make an acknowledgement meaningful, and using it to start a conversation. Someone asked whether it was possible to make an acknowledgement in language – we didn’t know at the meeting, but this was something that came up later in NAIDOC week, with Dan Bourchier from ABC Radio to welcome listeners in Ngunnawal and the Canberra Airport introducing a Welcome to Country at the airport – the link includes audio of the welcomes, including parts in Ngunnawal. Below are some Ngunnawal words, taken from the ABC article.
  • Some Ngunnawal words you’ll hear on ABC Radio Canberra:
    Yuumma = hello
    Wannggirali = listen
    Ma dji nhu = you
    Wuradji = from
    Yerrabi = let’s go/goodbye
  • What might reconciliation feel like?
    One suggestion was a shared moment of pride – like when Cathy Freeman won gold at the Olympics. However, for now, talking about reconciliation can sometimes feel awkward and uncomfortable, as we are not reconciled. We had all heard non-Indigenous people say that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should just move on from what happened; that it is in the past, with any wrongs committed by others long gone. However, we reflected that it is not possible to start anew – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are starting with trauma and disadvantage, and we are complicit in the current consequences. Chris noted that this was the power of Paul Keating’s Redfern Speech – of acknowledging the past as a basis for looking forward.
  • What next for the Uluru Statement for the Heart?
    Following on from this, significant as the Redfern Speech was, there has still not been fundamental change. The Uluru Statement was the clearest statement so far of what is needed and has been rejected. Chris said the asks – for a voice, truth telling and a treaty – are not new, and that the calls for these will not go away. In some ways, the greatest hope for change is with a Coalition Government – if change was initiated by a Labor Government, the Coalition might oppose it and it would fail but, if the Coalition can support change, then likely to be bipartisan and succeed. There is also opportunity now with both the Minister and Opposition Spokeperson being Aboriginal. It will be important to ensure that the Minister, Ken Wyatt, has wide support, so he is not isolated within his party (see here for the transcript of his speech to the National Press Club in NAIDOC week).
  • What can we do to engage the community more widely?
    Finally, we looked at how we can engage more people in these conversations and in advocating for change. Meetings are important, but not everyone will want to attend – though great if more could. There are opportunities for using social media and other platforms to encourage people to learn more and engage. One example is IndigenousX – which is a Twitter account with a different guest each week (though also has a website, as linked here).

Our thanks to everyone who came along and contributed. We look forward to continuing the conversations – knowing that this is just a start.

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