Editorial – Treaty

The Justice through Treaty March in Sydney on January 26 was organised by the Indigenous Peoples Organisation with the backing of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples. The Australian published an article on speaker Gillian Triggs’ support for a Treaty. Jeff McMullen, another speaker, published a feature article in the Independent Australia. What follows is an abridged version.

“As sovereignty was never surrendered, it cannot be just for any Australian government to deny the First Peoples of this land a fair settlement of the historic disputes that have come from invasion, frontier war, removal of children from family and ongoing dispossession in the land.

“The deceit of terra nullius has been swept away by the High Court, but we still behave as if two centuries of creeping dispossession and oppression have not occurred. If some of our ancestors were locked in a bloody frontier war, including massacres, why haven’t we ended the struggle with a Treaty, as in all other British Commonwealth nations with First Peoples?

“Australia’s current stance can still accurately be characterised as the so-called ‘smoothing of the dying pillow’. This contends that the First Peoples are doomed and that they must surrender to oblivion, one way or the other.

“On the contrary, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people retain strengths and resilience that should inspire us all. Contrary to the deficit discourse and the negative reactions of our political leaders, the First Peoples continue to tear down the barbed wire of discrimination and racism, they kick open the doors that deny them equal education and employment, and they have put forward many positive plans for a brighter future.

“One of our greatest strengths is the world’s most ancient multicultural diversity, based on the hundreds of distinct sovereign nations, with different languages and cultural practices, and an agreed social formula for co-existence.

“A Treaty is about recognition of this ancient sovereignty.

“The news that some NSW politicians are prepared to discuss a Treaty process builds on the political reality taking shape in Victoria, South Australia and the Northern Territory. State governments cannot claim to be listening to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people without responding to the solutions brokered by local organisations that have the solid foundation of traditional law and custom.

“Treaty is not about separation, superiority of any culture, or about white or black supremacy in terms of power. Indeed, it was such racist thinking that created the space between us in the first place. Treaty is simply one of the best legal options, based on global evidence, to recognise the rights of First Peoples on the road to making things better.

“A national Treaty framework should recognise Indigenous law and custom for each sovereign group of First Peoples, immediately settle the remaining Native Title claims stuck in the courts and also guarantee Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people the subsurface mineral rights to the wealth of their lands.”

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