A modest request from the First Nations of these lands and waters for recognition and a voice in the Constitution – the Rule Book of the Invaders – was rejected by all states and by 60% of the population. This ameliorating factor – given the Federal Government’s constitutional power to make laws, policy and programs on the basis of race – was deemed as a bridge too far. That’s right, Section 51(xxvi) in our Constitution empowers the Federal Parliament to make laws with respect to: “The people of any race for whom it is deemed necessary to make special laws”.
So we remain at the status quo – the Commonwealth retains control of First Nations Peoples’ lives through a 19th Century racist mechanism.
We are truly – structurally and constitutionally – a racist nation.
While the NO folk constantly spruiked scary terms such as ‘division’, ‘apartheid’ and ‘separatism’, the reality is that they were in fact describing the current and pre-referendum reality of Australia. Since the successful 1967 referendum, which enabled First Nations Peoples to be ‘races’ for whom the Commonwealth can make such laws, First Nations Peoples are the only peoples who have been subject to that constitutional power.
And we have confirmed that they have no recognised say in the development of laws made specifically for them; no say, no consent, no voice. So, as we were when we were colonies, we do not recognise the First Nations Peoples, there is no consent, no treaties; a nation built on theft. A nation stuck in the 19th century. It is a national SNAFU.
This is the real division. As I walked towards the polling booth I saw the NO sign with that word prominently displayed.
As if First Nations Peoples had their rights to their heritage, lands and waters protected.
As if they weren’t subject to overt and covert racism.
As if their children weren’t being removed at alarming rates or their men and women over-represented in our jails.
As if health and well-being outcomes for them were the same as for non-Indigenous people.
The real division is that over two-hundred years of invasion and occupation has created a huge gulf between the First and subsequent peoples on this land.
A gulf First Nations peoples have to cross every day to survive with resistance and resilience.
A gulf that the Statement from the Heart sought to bridge.
But after 14 October the division not only remains but seems vaster.
When are we, non-Indigenous people, going to start bridge-building from our end?
So the rebuilding must begin – again. In the face of attacks on state and territory truth-telling and treaty-making processes by some conservative political leaders – even in states and territories where it had bipartisan support (and I use the past tense purposefully) – we must address the matters that really separate us as First Nations and non-Indigenous peoples.
What’s your vision for the future of our developmentally challenged nation?
Surely, to be a grown up nation we must have proper national foundations that means we have treaties nationally, regionally and locally and a new constitution to enshrine recognition, voice and protection of treaties which has no race powers.
Surely, as distinct peoples on these lands and waters, First Nations must have real Agency, Rights and Self-determination in line with the UN Convention established after the Second World War and particularly in line with the Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Rights which enable the gap to be closed.
And surely, as peoples together we must have truth-telling, healing and reparations for the impact of invasion. Otherwise we remain a nation built on the shifting sands of theft and the lies we tell ourselves.
That would truly be living united in YES.