The Uluru Statement: A significant moment in time for all Australians

By Percy Knight

Indigenous Australians are the oldest living race in the World. For more than 200 years Indigenous Australians have been driven off the land that we occupied for over 70,000 years but we have never and never will cede sovereignty of our country.

The post-colonial era has been a particularly difficult time. Over the past 120 years, we have struggled for self-determination and economic emancipation under the yoke of an Australian Constitution which classifies us as “Flora and Fauna”. In 1967 we were counted as Australian for the first time. In 2019 we seek to be heard and we invite you to come with us on a journey towards a better future for all Australians.

Percy Knight

Two years ago, in May 2017, Australia’s First Nations Peoples endorsed the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The statement is an invitation to all Australians to join in a united expression of nationhood.

The 1967 referendum give us Equality and Parity within Australians Society and filled Indigenous people with hope and aspiration. But we soon learned that the Referendum that had briefly excited our people, also legalised the long-standing practice of removing children from our community and legitimised government policies of assimilation and integration into white Australia. Those Indigenous people who resisted found themselves in places like the Cootamundra Girls Home or the Kinchela Boys Home where horrific crimes were perpetrated by the very same people who were entrusted with the welfare and wellbeing of Indigenous people. We realised very quickly that these homes were more like prisons than training centre. That moment in time back in the 60s led to a great deal of shame and a sense of worthlessness. I was 11 years old in 1967. Living on a mission, I grew up in a community that had problems with alcohol and major depressions. Mission life was hard, and my people suffered severely. We could tell those who were suffering by their eyes, they were walking around the community like zombies looking for more alcohol as they thought the metho and wine was their path to redemption.

Four decades on and the Uluru Statement from the Heart offered a new moment of hope for Indigenous Australians. It was developed following the most comprehensive Indigenous consultation effort in history. Led by the Referendum Council, 13 regionals dialogues were held nationwide, and 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander delegates attended the National Uluru Convention where the Statement was presented. The Statement has three main asks - Voice, Treaty, Truth – put in practice through a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution and a Makarrata Commission, to supervise agreement-making and truth-telling between government and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Why does Voice matter?

Indigenous languages were the first words spoken on this continent, and they have continued to be spoken here for over 70,000 years. The Statement recognises that there is wisdom and authority in First Nations’ perspectives and voices. Self-determination is realised when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ voices are influential in the decisions that affect them.

Enshrining a First Nations Voice in the Constitution ensures that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who have been far too often ignored or marginalised, are the central authority over their own lives. The call for a Voice to Parliament is a logical and modest, yet a powerful reform that would enhance Indigenous participation in the democratic life of our nation for the benefit of our nation.

While the Uluru Statement refers to number of objectives - Voice, Treaty, Truth - Voice is the piece that underpins all other pillars. It is only by enabling and legitimising Voice that this movement can be owned and led by Aboriginal people.

The journey from Uluru

The consultations leading up to the Uluru Statement were a phenomenal achievement, which needs to continue. Of course, time does not stand still, and the voices of Aboriginal communities are dynamic. The Indigenous voice must continue to adapt and grow in strength as we journey towards national change. Importantly, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices must be central to the process of establishing a Voice to Parliament. Consultation efforts with community cannot be sporadic or once-off; there must be continuous and meaningful engagement built into these processes.

The power of the Uluru Statement from the Heart is that it was community-driven, and Indigenous-led. We cannot lose this power in our continued efforts for a Voice to Parliament.

Intrinsic to national transformation is a need to continue to consult with communities to ensure our movement is built on the principles it is seeking to achieve. But consultation takes time as there are voices across the country that need to be heard. We need your support to ensure this movement can remain owned and controlled by Indigenous First Australians people as this consultation occurs.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart is a real Moment in Time for Indigenous Peoples in their drive for self-determination, economic emancipation and the rights to rebuild their nations. As a member of the Wiradjuri Nation and a delegate, the Uluru experience and Community dialogues filled me with great pride. The challenge is to now ensure that the Uluru Statement from the Heart is accepted, embraced and becomes a point of pride for all Australians.

Percy Knight

Percy Knight

Percy Knight is an elder of the Wiradjuri Nation and an Associate Lecturer in the Discipline of Strategy, Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Sydney Business School.