Indigenous Australia

Noel Pearson's assimilation agenda divides Indigenous Australians

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It is time for conservative North Queensland Indigenous leader Noel Pearson to stop promoting assimilation and start listening to his people, says Kamileroi representative Natalie Cromb.

INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS in Australia have taken numerous hits over the last month.

Of course, we received the usual hits from government. The predictable attack on character in order to justify the closure on 150 Indigenous communities in Western Australia (note to Colin Barnett: get some new material; this was done to death and caused the NT intervention and was found to be baseless); the government mandated Murdoch media rag attacks on legitimate Indigenous rights activism.

Those sorts of hits are expected and, although disappointing, can easily be chalked down to the racist agenda of the government.

The hits that hurt are the ones coming from our supposed "leaders". Now, I am not actually suggesting these people represent anyone, but they have the ear of their friends in government, so they have been dubbed "leaders", so let’s for a second pretend they are leaders.

Last week, Warren Mundine advocated for a national database of Aboriginal people. It is obvious Warren serves the overlord prime minister, but come on!

Something tells me a brother doesn’t know – or is wilfully blind – to the fact that our people have suffered numerous stolen generations – not just one – and the damage of each removal is still being unwound by individual families. Many are still trying to track their heritage. What good would a database be except to further marginalise or provide the government a tool to use against us?

This week, Noel Pearson, in his infinite wisdom and self-proclaimed authority as a leader, threw his support behind a conservative Constitutional recognition movement that – and I cannot overstate this – seeks to subvert the current movements (treaty and recognition) by providing an alternative to recognition that is symbolic and palatable for the white Australia that perceives the Indigenous people as a problem we need to move on from.

Noel Pearson spoke at the launch of a new proposal for recognising Indigenous Australians drafted by Constitutional conservatives Damien Freeman and Julian Leeser and entitled:

'The Australian Declaration of Recognition: Capturing the Nation’s Aspirations by Recognising Indigenous Australians'.

This document supports a separate declaration of recognition as opposed to a symbolic preamble to the Constitution or a new Section 51A.

An apparent offshoot of the arch-conservate Samuel Griffith Society, the group Uphold and Recognise was behind this document. They have a Charter which seeks to uphold the Constitution because, so it says, it:

'... has served our nation well, providing Australia with an enviable record of stable democratic government.'

The Charter goes further to state that members of their organisation

'... hold recognition to be a deep moral imperative, some of us regard it as necessary for improving indigenous health and education, some of us believe the issues needs to be resolved and taken off the agenda once and for all and some of us wish to identify the least worst option for addressing the issue.'

The authors suggest that Australians "own" the process and, if so, it will be a truly transformative moment in Australian history. That said, there is no discussion surrounding Indigenous consultation and how engaged Indigenous people ought to be in this process.

The Constitutional conservatives are against the Constitution containing any racial discrimination prohibition on the grounds that it would diminish the power of the Parliament. Put simply, they would like Parliament to retain the right to make laws on behalf of and against particular races. Given that the majority (white) controls parliament they would, of course, want to be able to maintain the power to make laws on behalf of other races – especially Indigenous people – it has been quite profitable for them.

The wording of the declaration proposed by the conservatives would be designed by Australians through a national competition (yes, quite the mockery of something like genocide) voted on by all Australians in a referendum in much the same way as the national flag was selected. The authors suggest a historical and aspirational statement of no more than 300 words and, again, suggests 2017 as a symbolic year in light of the 50 year anniversary since the 1967 referendum.

The proposal speaks of Indigenous Australia’s 'unique place in history' but not of the historical facts of theft, dispossession, massacres and systematic policies of destruction implemented against the Indigenous people and, I imagine, if the word “compensation” or “reparation” was uttered we would have wealthy white people fainting at the alter.

This approach has the backing of Pearson who called it a "breakthrough".

A. Break. Through.

Noel Pearson, a supposed Indigenous leader, considers a Constitution being upheld and a separate document artfully glossing over the truth of our history is a "breakthrough". Of course, Pearson has long argued that he is an advocate for Indigenous equality and rights, but his latest words tend to indicate he is advocating for assimilation.

Constitutional recognition of Indigenous people is a divisive topic, the Recognise campaign is polarising in the community, notwithstanding the fact that it has strong Indigenous support and input.

The Recognise campaign not only seeks Constitutional recognition for Indigenous Australians, but it seeks to correct the matter of discrimination against Indigenous people. The Recognise campaign notes that the Constitution mentioned Indigenous people only to discriminate and that, until the 1967 Referendum, Indigenous Australians were excluded even from being counted in the tally of citizens under section 127 of the Constitution.

The discussion in the community is largely around whether Constitutional recognition would undermine the sovereignty of Indigenous people and there is an amount of trepidation in trusting an initiative of this magnitude that was initiated by the Liberal Government. The Liberal Government, however, weren’t counting on Indigenous people getting into the movement and insisting on the removal of the racial discrimination provisions – enter stage left – the conservative movement.

I am an unapologetic advocate for sovereignty, recognised through treaty. That said, it is plan to see that this conservative movement seeks to divide the movements.

Whether you are for Sovereignty (treaty) or Recognise (constitutional recognition) or both, one thing is for certain – if you are Indigenous – you have a responsibility to listen to your community and serve that community.

Indigenous people in this country are born with instant responsibility. We have our ancestors’ sacrifices and hardship on our shoulders. We know and feel what they endured for this current generation and understand the gravity of responsibility for the future generations.

We are aware that 227 years of oppression is 227 years too much, and that we must work towards rectifying this injustice and setting the record straight to the general population of Australia. That Australia was settled illegally; that the nation is occupied rather than settled and that, despite this devastation endured by the Indigenous population,we don’t want to expel anyone from this land.

We know current generations love this country as we do and would not consider reciprocating the cruelty bestowed upon us for 227 years. We simply want the record set straight and we want self-determination so that Indigenous people can be responsible for their own futures, be empowered to shape a future that not only develops their communities but fosters ongoing connection to country and cultural practices.

We want assimilation taken off the agenda.

It is time for you to listen to your people Noel, because we are speaking loud and clear.

You can follow Natalie Cromb on Twitter @NatalieCromb.

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