NAIDOC Week: Truth telling together

NAIDOC Week: Truth telling together was originally published by the Australia & New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG) on 5 July 2019.

NAIDOC week is an opportunity to recognise and celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Australia’s First Peoples. The theme for 2019’s NAIDOC Week is: ‘Voice. Treaty. Truth.’ Carissa Lee Godwin, Editor, APO’s First Peoples & Public Policy Collection outlines why these themes matter to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, and how the APO collection supports them.

Voices will be heard

Voice is never an easy topic to cover when it comes to First Peoples. There are so many voices and nations, to try and sum us up as one would be an inaccurate representation of who we are as people. In 2017, the Uluru Statement From the Heart called for the establishment of a First Peoples voice to be present in the Constitution of Australia:

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 are aware that we face challenges within our own communities, with a multitude of voices clashing over the licensing of the Aboriginal flag, and how we navigate the intersection between cultural rights and ownership, and what a statewide Treaty would even look like. However, we are a strong collective of mobs, and our voices will remain loud and significant in this country.

Calls for a Treaty

The word ‘treaty’ can be used to describe a range of agreements between states, nations, governments or people. There have been recent developments with calls by the Victorian Treaty Advancement Commission to have a First Peoples’ Assembly established, and to have our Victorian mobs vote on the establishment of a committee from various First Peoples nations across Victoria, to help set up a statewide Treaty.

With these conversations taking place, the presence of Treaty in this year’s NAIDOC theme feels like a significant one, and will hopefully inspire other state governments to consider the possibility of moving forward with a national Treaty.

Truth as an action

The concept of ‘truth telling’ has become widely used in policy. As defined in the 2019 Truth Telling Symposium Report:

Truth telling processes and mechanisms aim to increase historical acceptance in order to progress reconciliation. Truth telling processes may include official apologies, truth and reconciliation commissions, other inquiries or commissions, memorials, museums, education and healing centers.

Although this is a promising premise, there needs to be action beyond mere lip service. This country needs a more truthful stance on who our First Peoples are, and the importance of our presence in this country.

The APO First Peoples & Public Policy Collection, established in partnership with ANZSOG, aims to provide diversity in views and resources. We want to encourage organisations to do more than claim truth telling as a methodology for practice, and instead we want it to actually be used. And for this to happen, the voices of First Peoples must be included in the conversation in a more significant way.

About the First Peoples & Public Policy Collection

As part of its mission to improve Indigenous policy in Australia and Aotearoa-New Zealand, ANZSOG is working to increase knowledge of Indigenous culture and history. Part of this is our support of the Analysis & Policy Observatory’s (APO) First Peoples & Public Policy Collection, launched at our Reimagining Public Administration conference in February 2019.

APO is an online knowledge hub that makes public policy research visible, discoverable and usable. It contains more than 40,000 resources, including specialist collections, grey literature reports, articles and data.

The First Peoples & Public Policy Collection is curated from a broad selection of key Indigenous policy topics, and provides a valuable resource on Indigenous affairs, with a focus on diverse Indigenous voices.


Opinion: Sorry Day – The importance of knowledge

My name is Carissa Lee Godwin. I’m a Wemba-Wemba and Noongar woman, and Analysis & Policy Observatory (APO) Specialist Editor for the First Peoples & Public Policy Collection. To me, knowledge is important, it’s something that has been passed on between generations within the many nations of the First Peoples of Australia. Unfortunately, a lot of First Peoples’ knowledge has been lost due to one in ten Indigenous children being forcibly removed from their families between 1910 and 1970 – breaking vital links to our generational knowledge.

Significance of Sorry Day

Sorry Day is a day where Australia acknowledges the mistreatment of First Nations peoples, namely the taking of First Nations children from their families, creating what are known as the Stolen Generations. The 26th of May 1997 was the date that the Bringing them home report – a guide to the findings and recommendations of the National Inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families – was tabled in parliament.

Sorry Day is followed by National Reconciliation Week on the 27th of May, which marks the date when the 1967 referendum took place. National Reconciliation Week concludes on the 3rd of June, which is when the High Court Mabo decision took place. The 1967 referendum is significant because this is when First Nations people were finally recognised as part of the Constitution of Australia. The Mabo decision led to the recognition of First Nations peoples and their ownership of land under the Native Title Act 1993 – which recognises the traditional rights and interests to land and waters of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. However, there is still a long way to go on First Nations people being treated equally and being given rights to their land, even with amendments to the Constitution and the Native Title Act.

National Reconciliation Week

The placement of National Reconciliation Week after Sorry Day feels symbolic because in order for us to reconcile between and across cultures, we need to first acknowledge the wrongs that have been done. Reconciliation cannot happen without this first step. National Reconciliation Week has a theme each year, this year the theme is ‘Grounded in Truth – Walk Together in Courage’. This week is an opportunity for different cultures to come together and learn about First Nations people in an act of reconciliation, with organisations such as APO’s host Swinburne University of Technology holding events for Sorry Day and Reconciliation Week.

Public apologies and refusals

On the 12th of December 1992, as part of the celebration for the Year of the World’s Indigenous People, Paul Keating issued his Redfern speech to the citizens of Australia, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, stating his empathy and remorse at the occurrence of Indigenous children being taken from their families. He acknowledged that Australia was to blame for this, as well as the high numbers of Aboriginal deaths recorded in the Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody Report that had been collated the previous year. Over a decade later, then-prime minister Kevin Rudd issued his apology speech on the 13th of February, 2008. This was a significant moment in Australian history, after the previous prime minister John Howard had vocally refused to apologise.

Lasting trauma of the Stolen Generations

One misconception about Sorry Day is that all Australia needs to do is acknowledge that Indigenous children were taken, and be sorry about it. However, the effects of such an act of disregard against human beings doesn’t stop there. Trauma is cruel like that. Australia needs to also recognise the intergenerational trauma that has occurred as a result of the Stolen Generations, the numerous massacres, ongoing police brutality, and institutionalised racism, a lot of which still happens today.

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