Constitutional recognition key to rights and riches

Members of the Gumatj clan prepare to perform Bunggul ceremonial dancing at the Garma Festival. Pic by Peter Eve, Yothu Yindi Foundation

Gumatj leaders have made renewed calls for constitutional recognition for First Nations peoples as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has again ruled out calling a referendum to establish an Indigenous voice to parliament.

At the Garma festival in Gulkula in the Northern Territory on the weekend, senior Gumatj leader Djawa Yunupingu, deputy chairman of the Yothu Yindi Foundation, said recognition was long overdue.

“The truth is that we are not united in this country – we are not comfortable – and we remain uncertain and troubled by this truth,” Mr Djawa Yunupingu said.

“Because we live side by side – two people, two laws, one country.”

Mr Djawa Yunupingu said change must come from the Constitution.

“So how long do we have to wait to get this right?” he said.“Another committee? Another hearing? Another meeting? Another Prime Minister?”

Mr Yunupingu said senior Gumatj clan leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu, chairman of the Yothu Yindi Foundation, had already dealt with eight prime ministers.

“So can we blame him for crying when the Uluru Statement is read to him and he knows it has been rejected?” Mr Djawa Yunupingu said.

“After all he has done. Do we blame him for being frustrated?”

“I understand because I know how it feels and it feels no good.”

But Mr Djawa Yunupingu said they would continue to look to the future and work to get fairness and justice for all Aboriginal people.

Dr Galarrwuy Yunupingu said Aboriginal people wanted their riches back.

“The bauxite, the gold, they were both taken from Aborigines,” he said. “Therefore we want to ask, to try and get these items back…We want to ask the government to get these items back.”

“We want to get this by our rights, by Constitution. If that Constitutionworks for them it should work for us.”

Meanwhile Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has again ruled out holding a referendum on a voice to parliament.

“I don’t believe that would be able to be passed at a referendum and it’s not a policy that I would support,” Mr Turnbull told the ABC.

Tasmanian author Richard Flanagan, a speaker at Garma, was among those critical of the Turnbull government for rejecting last year’s Uluru Statement from the Heart. Mr Flanagan said Mr Turnbull had “humiliated” Indigenous leaders and squandered a chance at reconciliation, the ABC reported.

“The Uluru Statement was a historic moment for our nation, by refusing it the Turnbull Government chose to write itself out of history,” Mr Flanagan said.

Cape York leader Noel Pearson said Mr Turnbull’s rejection of a permanent Indigenous advisory body had “destroyed” people, but Aboriginal people should not be intimidated, the ABC reported.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart, delivered in May, called for the establishment of a First Nations’ Voice enshrined in the Constitution and a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about Australia’s history.

The Garma Festival’s theme this year was truth-telling.

Wendy Caccetta

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