A leader representing some of Australia’s most isolated communities says there are more important issues facing Aboriginal people than the date of Australia Day.
Marra Worra Worra chief executive Dickie Bedford will travel more than 4800km from remote Fitzroy Crossing in Western Australia’s north to represent 35 communities at the giant Justice Through Treaty march in Sydney on Friday.
Mr Bedford said homelessness, overcrowding, failed government programs and lack of representation in government were all more critical than the January 26 date debate.
“For some, they have the right to debate the date if they feel that is important to them,” Mr Bedford said.
“I represent 35 communities. January 26 will come and go and our issues on the ground will still remain.
“I much more want to engage with the government on how do we change all of that.”
His comments come as a national war of words continues to rage around Australia Day and as organisers of the justice rally — which will call for a treaty with Aboriginal people — prepare for crowds in the tens of thousands.
Mr Bedford will be a speaker at the event.
He said a treaty was important to the communities in WA’s north.
“I guess the treaty would give us some security about our future and our security isn’t going to be based around another government coming in, another set of policies and another set of programs and another welfare system where they know what’s right for the Aboriginal people,” he said.
“The treaty would lead to identification, which is important to us and it would allow us to have self-determination on our communities to determine our own destinies and our own future.
“I guess in a certain sense it would be a healing thing for the nation for prosperity and perpetuity and we want to be a part of that. We just don’t want to be the subject of it.”
Mr Bedford said the debate over Australia Day was diverting attention from the main issues.
He said some communities liked to celebrate on January 26.
“The debate about changing the date just recently came up,” he said. “For a long time Aboriginal people across the country in some way, shape or form celebrated Australia Day.
“We do nothing specific up home at Fitzroy Crossing, but of course there are communities that want to celebrate the day. After all, we are Aussies, albeit the first Aussies.
“In the last 10 to 20 years people have been celebrating Survival Day.
“It’s either change the date or change the name. The Indigenous community celebrates the day under different circumstances, you might say.”
Meanwhile, Sydney Aboriginal pastor Ray Minniecon, another speaker at the rally, has labelled comments by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott about Australia Day as “idiotic, stupid, dumb”.
In a radio interview this week Mr Abbott said the events of January 26 1788 – when British settlement began – was a good thing for everyone, including Aboriginal people, because it brought Australia into the modern world.
“What Aboriginal person would agree with him?” Mr Minniecon said. “It’s stupid. I’ve said many, many times the 26th of January in any year will always be a year of mourning and lament for me personally and any other Aboriginal person who wants to join us.
“It’s not something I could celebrate. That’s when the darkness fell upon our people and continues to be that way.
“We have to remember the massacres, we have to remember the stolen generations and more recently in our own contemporary days the number of children forcibly removed.
“We don’t have a treaty. We’re the only Indigenous people on the planet who don’t have any kind of agreement. We’ve got nothing to celebrate except a continuation of our lament and mourning.”
Michael Anderson, the last surviving member of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy and leader of the Euahlayi Nation, said treaty talks in Sydney were welcome but a single treaty was not the answer.
“It has to be understood that a single Treaty, be it state or federal, will cause more damage to our various sovereign nations than the Native Title Act as amended,” he said.
“I offer this warning to our people that, if each respective sovereign nation fails to stand up for itself and take ownership of their own future, your people will stand to lose much through the process and ambition to negotiate a single treaty.”
Read more in NIT: Everyone’s two bob on Oz Day debate