MADALAH alumnus and Whadjuk and Ballardong Nyoongar man Christian Miller-Sabbioni recently spoke about what Reconciliation means to him at IGO Limited’s Reconciliation Morning Tea. Read his speech, supplied by MADALAH, below.
SPONSORED: Reconciliation — “the restoration of friendly relations” is the definition. But how can you restore friendly relations that never existed? The genesis of the relationship between Australia and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was one of conquest, of colonisation and of control.
For me there is nothing to reconcile but, what exists here in the present, is the opportunity of establishment. Establishment of an authentic relationship grounded in virtue of truth.
This opportunity is contingent upon recognising the dark history of this nation and respecting the truths that are in conjunction with that history. This is what is needed to establish the foundations of a new relationship between Australians and its Traditional Custodians.
Respect here is not one of universal undertones; respecting Indigenous people is respecting them in their Otherness — not their sameness. For me this is imperative.
Attempts of curating sameness in this country is what led to inhumane atrocities like the Stolen Generations, like the Frontier Wars.
This concept of respect is a precept to truthful, humane recognition of Indigenous people. And once that equal plane of viewing each other is established, this country becomes whole.
‘Reconciliation Week’ and ‘Sorry Day’ are meaningless tokens embodying the sustenance of falsity. An apology without action indicates a lack of truthfulness, a lack of recognition, and a lack of meaning, therefore, negating the entire apology.
Empty words lose their meaning. Inaction fuels the fire of injustice. I will not waste the present on the past here so, to the now and beyond.
The reality here may seem hopeless, but it is only through the process of a struggle that the pain withers away. Healing the land, healing Indigenous people, and healing the relationship between Australia and its Traditional Owners will indefinitely be difficult.
Nevertheless, it is only through the acts of courage that healing can take the place of pain. Healing entails learning Indigenous knowledges, cultural practices, sociopolitical structures and language.
For example, take the Noongar totem system. Each individual is given totem of a living entity like plants or animals. The responsibility of this totemic relationship is to maintain and nurture respect for its life through ensuring its preservation. This is done by one being inhibited to eat such an entity.
Secondly, it is to maintain a spiritual connection with the entity, one that transcends the physical and material world while being consciously aware of the energy your totem may bring to you at any given moment.
With the material-physical and metaphysical-spiritual relationships established and respected, the environment’s biodiversity was sustainable, and it thrived. I am not proposing Indigenous knowledge holds absolute knowledge to rectify all the problems of humanity. However, what I am an advocate for is taking this thinking into consideration.
I believe my example through the totem system illuminates a current phenomenon we all suffer from today as a collective people. That is detachment and disconnection. This extends to our relationships as people, our detachment from spirituality and our disconnection from Mother Nature herself.
At the crux of the crises we face such as ecological devastation and climate change, I believe our perception of nature is at fault. Viewing nature as an entity to be challenged, an entity to be mastered, will only perpetuate the current existential climate crisis we have now.
We must shift this paradigm to heal Country and heal Earth herself — and we can only do this together.
In sum, I believe all Australians have an ethical obligation and humanitarian imperative to fight oppression regardless of the form it takes, whether it be explicit or implicit to our perception.
We must consciously take action to construct a better future. This can begin now in the present by you not perceiving me as an ‘angry half-caste’ ranting about oppression and me reciprocating that by not perceiving you as a bunch of exploitative capitalists looking to fill your own pockets. Market mechanisms will not solve the current state of affairs. But new ideas forged together most certainly will.
In my honest opinion, this country has so much potential to be great. I believe we have the potential to be global leaders in sustainable energy practices, set the tone for the globe in terms of its relationship with its Indigenous people, but this can only be achieved in unison.
I invite all of you to embark on this journey with me in establishing the right relationship, one that the colonialists took from us. A relationship founded upon truth, recognition, respect and love. Only together can we harness the fruits this country possesses, together Australia can be whole, together Australia can thrive.
By Christian Miller-Sabbioni
Christian Miller-Sabbioni is an Indigenous Support Worker at MADALAH and a MADALAH alumnus.