Reflections from ANTaR ACT, written by Janet Hunt, on the second ACT Reconciliation Day, on Monday 27 May 2019.
This is the ACT’s second Reconciliation Day public holiday. We all love a day off. But what is the point of this one? But can we really celebrate that we are reconciled with our local First Nations people?
It’s now two years since the Uluru Statement from the Heart when First Nations leaders from around the nation called, for Voice, Treaty and Truth. Truth is needed before we can really reconcile. The truth is that the current settler colonial system isn’t working for First Nations people in Australia. We need to recognise that colonialism hasn’t ended for First Nations – we settlers remain and colonial policies continue to marginalise and hurt Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart made clear that First Nations have never ceded their sovereignty. And they said:
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.You can read the full Uluru Statement from the Heart here.
Neither at the national level, not in the ACT do First Nations people have the power over their destiny so that their children can flourish. Here in the ACT they have no right to self-determination; they have no land returned to them, they remain incarcerated in record numbers, their health and education outcomes are worse than those of other citizens, their children are still taken away at very high rates and they have no treaty or settlement with the rest of us. Their powerlessness in the government of their own affairs is clear.
So, while we have time to think about this on Reconciliation Day, just ponder what needs to change in the ACT:
- The ACT has the highest ratio of Aboriginal people in jail in Australia. An Aboriginal person in Canberra is 17.5 times more likely than a non-Aboriginal person to be sent to prison. The next highest is WA with a ratio of 16:1 followed by the NT where the ratio is 12:1. (ABS Prisoners in Australia 2018)
- 28.3% of children in out-of-home care are Aboriginal; it’s the highest rate of removal of Aboriginal children from their families in Australia; it is the only jurisdiction in Australia that has child-protection legislation which does not require Aboriginal organisations to be involved in decisions about the placement or care of Aboriginal children. (Family Matters Campaign, Our Booris: Our Way)
- The Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Yarramundi Reach, and the Ngunnawal Bush Healing Farm at Tidbinbilla are managed by ACT government not the Aboriginal community, reflecting no opportunity for self-determination. (ATSIEB community consultation report)
- Support the Ngunawal language revival program, currently self-funded by Ngunawal people
- Support for families, housing, employment, education, drug and alcohol services are all much needed. The ACT’s young First Nations people deserve a better chance in life.