The second week of July every year is marked in Australia by NAIDOC week, with a purpose to recognise and reflect on the history of dispossession, discrimination, invasion and colonisation faced by Indigenous Australians. These events which our society has been built upon has resulted in everyday struggles faced by our Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people, in the form of historical and intergenerational trauma. NAIDOC week is a reminder of these issues and a call for us to recognise our place in them.
This year’s NAIDOC week theme was the Uluru Statement of the Heart, created in 2017 from conversations with Indigenous people about issues that have been on-going throughout generations in Australia. These conversations demand recognition, of the fundamental imbalance of power between the first nations and national sovereignty. We must recognise that as a nation, we are letting the state lock the people that came before us out of the democracy our society claims to be structured by.
The Uluru Statement of the Heart draws attention to 3 important points;- including addressing Sovereignty, acknowledging that Aboriginal tribes were the first sovereign nations of the Australian continent. Constitutional reform, to address the gap in disadvantage suffered by Indigenous Australians in comparison to non- Indigenous Australians. The Makarrata Commission is another aspect of the statement which involves developing a national framework that would permit each sovereign Aboriginal nation state to negotiate their own respective treaty, and oversee a process of truth telling. And finally a voice to parliament, that gives the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people authority to claim a rightful place in their country. With these three facets of the Uluru statement, awareness for the institutionalised inequality Indigenous people suffer at the hands of our society is raised.
The necessity for us to instigate these discussions in our workplaces, universities, schools, and with our political representatives as well as our family and friends is becoming increasingly important. Today, the gap in disadvantage between Indigenous and non- Indigenous Australians is significant. The life expectancy for Indigenous Australians is about 10 years shorter than non- Indigenous people. In regards, to employment to population rate, for Indigenous 15-64 year olds it was 48% in 2014-15, compared to 75% for non- Indigenous Australians.
Rates of family and community violence are much higher in Indigenous communities whereby Indigenous children were almost 10 times more likely to be placed in out of home care. When addressing incarceration, in September 2017, Indigenous prisoners represented 20% of the total adult prisoner population, whilst accounting for only 2% of the total Australian population. Despite these statistics illustrating the inequality Indigenous Australians suffer at the hands of our society, upon the statement’s introduction in 2017, Malcolm Turnbull, the prime minister at the time rejected it, arguing that that the statement ‘lacked detail and Australian’s won’t support it’.
The injustice Indigenous people are faced with in their communities highlights how as a nation we are failing to live up to the values we identify with, being that all Australian’s deserve ‘a fair go’. Hence, the need for us to get involved. The Statement is a call to arms for all Australians to strongly advocate for a more inclusive nation. One that stands up for the vulnerable and doesn’t stumble in the face of racism and contempt.
“In 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.”- 2017 Uluru Statement of the Heart