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"Deeply Saddening": Land Councils respond to referendum result after week of mourning

Dechlan Brennan -

A number of Indigenous groups across the country have concluded a week of silence after the Voice to Parliament referendum defeat to express sadness, disappointment and defiance, saying they were "disappointed but not surprised."

The Central Land Council, one of four land councils in the Northern Territory, said the result of the referendum showed Australia was "a country that does not know itself."

"Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people all over remote Australia voted YES," a statement from the CLC said.

"The referendum results tell us an important story: We as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are united.

"Our people are grieving. Those of us who have been around for a long time recognise how it feels. We have been here before. We are sad, but we know that we must stay strong."

Polling from remote Northern Territory policing places - many with a large Indigenous population - show an overwhelming majority of First Nations people voted for Indigenous recognition in the constitution.

On Sunday, Liberal Senator Sarah Henderson claimed that "ordinary Indigenous Australians" rejected the voice. Her office has been contacted for comment on what classifies as "ordinary Indigenous Australians."

The CLC said their Elders and community leaders had created a legacy of fighting to improve the lives of Indigenous people in the region and this wouldn't be diminished by the result.

"We will keep fighting for equality, fighting for land, fighting for water, fighting for housing, infrastructure, good jobs, education, closing the gap - a future for our children," they said.

"While we are disappointed with the outcome of the referendum, we recognise the courage of the Prime Minister Mr Albanese and thank him for providing Australia with an opportunity to vote for change."

A joint statement signed by the Northern Land Council, the Tiwi Land Council and the Anindilyakwa Land Council, said the country denied a "simple request" on October 14 to have Indigenous people "recognised in the Nation's founding document and for a formal process to be established to inform government decision making on policy that affects our people and our communities."

"It is clear remote residents across Northern Australia overwhelmingly supported the referendum proposal. Eager to break the shackles of poor government decision-making, a proposal for a new system to engage with government was the opportunity to break from the past," they said in a statement.

"The mistakes of the past will be continued with the latest mandate. In effect it is an attempt to silence Aboriginal people which is likely to further disadvantage our communities. The request for a voice was simple. Listen to us before you make decisions about us.

"We recognise the result of the referendum cannot be separated from a deep-seated racism. It is fair to say that not everyone who voted "No" is racist but also fair to say that all racists voted 'No'.

"The vitriol and hatred that were part of the campaign existed prior to, but were given licence through the process. The overarching theory we are incapable of managing our own affairs is dehumanising and degrading and most of all, deeply flawed."

The last week has seen the federal opposition, championed by leader Peter Dutton and opposition Indigenous spokesperson Jacinta Nampijinpa Price advocate for a Royal Commission into child sexual abuse in Indigenous communities despite a coalition of Indigenous-led welfare groups saying it would be costly, unnecessary and solutions were already at hand.

The opposition constantly argued throughout the referendum campaign that it wanted to listen to Indigenous communities rather than "city elites."

Tiwi Land Council chair, Gibson Farmer Illortaminni, said the outcome showed a pressing need for First Nations people to find a way forward.

"...one that ensures our voices are not only heard but respected when crucial decisions are being made by the government, decisions that directly impact our lives, lands, seas and culture," he said.

Tony Wurramarrba, Chair of the Anindilyakwa Land Council, said they expected and would ask for "continued engagement and partnership" with the public and politicians.

Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTAR) said they were "deeply saddened" by the result.

"Mostly we are sad for the nation. Once again, an opportunity to be more than a former colony of the British Empire has been missed, despite a proposition which was so gracious, modest, and accommodating to mainstream values," ANTAR said.

"Some days it is hard to breathe… particularly when we hear stories of First Nations people who feel lost and placeless in their own country. We are hearing that for many, the unfolding events of Saturday, 14 October felt like an unparalleled act of racism by white Australia."

They noted that whilst there were many reasons behind the referendum defeat, the lack of bi-partisanship and the "lies that were peddled by the No campaign that dog whistling and misinformation" were critical to the proposition's failure.

"We don't accept that this is the end of the movement for change. The Voice was only one mechanism for progressing First Nations rights and justice," they said.

"We do accept and affirm that close to 40 percent of the nation believes in 'Yes'. We do accept and affirm that in booths where the majority of the population were First Nations people, there was overwhelming support for 'Yes'."

On Sunday, the Nine papers revealed a document, from the "the collective insights and views of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders, community members and organisations who supported the Yes Campaign."

It said it would aim to alter the Uluru Statement from the Heart "to remove the aim of enshrining a First Nations Voice in the Constitution".

The draft proposition reportedly noted that whilst there was a myriad of factors for the defeat, there was a heavy amount of blame apportioned to the lack of bi-partisanship.

"Mr (David) Littleproud, Mr (Peter) Dutton and the political parties they lead are responsible for this result," it said.

"The truth is that the majority of Australians have committed a shameful act whether knowingly or not, and there is nothing positive to be interpreted from it. Only the shameless could say there is no shame in this outcome."

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