Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Aboriginal Embassy, Protests, Rights and the Constitutional Referendum

Sarah’s post about the protests in Australia around Australia Day – a day which several Aboriginal leaders refer to as “Invasion Day” – brings forth the issue of the relationship between indigenous peoples and settler societies. If, on the one hand, countries like New Zealand, Canada and the US have treaties whereby the indigenous peoples “ceded” their lands (the validity of that consent is the subject of much controversy), most countries in Latin America and Australia (as well as, to the best of my knowledge, Scandinavian countries) do not have such formal arrangements, and have attempted to establish their rapport with indigenous peoples in a more organic way as of late. Sure, followed by centuries of invasion, decimation and oppression, but now seemingly willing to genuinely achieve positive balance in indigenous peoples – settler societies relations in a non-assimilationist fashion.
But not all is this clear-cut, of course. Perhaps because Australia is the one English-speaking country where there are no Treaties, Aboriginal peoples have – and rightly so, I believe – chosen to treat the settler society as a guest in their country, or to see themselves as not Australians (to the extent “Australians” are the descendants of European colonizers). Hence the embassy, which has been around for 40 years. But a lot of this might change, should the referendum to amend the Constitution pass. Sure, Tony Abbott’s – the opposition leader in Australia – remarks were unfortunate, to say the very least, but there might be something to them. If the Australian Constitution aptly recognizes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, then what role is there for an embassy, at least bearing the name of “Embassy”? Of course, the Aboriginal cause will not have achieved every single one of its goals with the mere passage of a constitutional amendment, but the core objective of its cause will need to be fundamentally reshaped, and it might be time to start considering that, while at the same time keeping putting on pressure for referendum.

Patrick Dodson’s (one of the members of the Expert Panel that produced the report released last week) op-ed piece published today (here) is a reminder of what is really at stake, and how one should not be detracted by the single violent incident of an otherwise remarkably peaceful and lasting protest – the Aboriginal Embassy.

Written by Lucas Lixinski

1 comment :

S(r)ambo said...

Im not to sure Australia are ready to fully accept Aboriginal people, since the protest on Australia day there are calls to vote no to constitutional change, all because of a group of 200 people exercising their rights, to punish a whole race of peope because of one 200 person protest lacks any logic, Aboriginals have been asking questions since they got the vote (only 45 years ago) with nothing but silence on any issue affecting Aboriginal peoples, we have had way worse protests recently, but selective memory and bouts of amnesia are the main tools used to ignore any threat to the un-official contiuation of the "White Australia Policy" its alive and well still in this isolated part of the world