To celebrate three years since First Nations Peoples came together on May 26, 2017 to create the Uluru Statement from the Heart, National Indigenous Times has invited champions of the movement to write about what the Statement means to them.
Today’s champion is Thomas Mayor, a Torres Strait Islander man born on Larrakia Country. Mayor travelled across Australia with the Statement for 18 months to garner support on the ground and has continued to spread the Statement’s message far and wide.
In the small community of Mutitjulu on the evening of 26 May, 2017, I witnessed the Anangu people spiritually endorsing the Uluru Statement from the Heart in a moving ceremony.
I stood with more than 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who had come from all points of the southern sky to do the hard work of determining how we wanted to change a nation—a nation that always had, and would otherwise continue, to leave us behind.
It was an unforgettable moment, standing in the red dust as the sun descended behind the mighty rock, Uluru. All of us wore smiles from ear to ear because we had just achieved the first step to realising permanent, positive change—a united national position presented to the nation in a public statement—and we relished in it. Though the most difficult task of moving the politicians to accept our claims was yet to come.
Before the dust had settled from that celebration in the heart of the country, several influential politicians began to attack. Divisive tactics immediately came into play.
By October 2017, the then Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had dismissed the Uluru Statement. He misled the Australian people about the call for a Voice, saying it was a third chamber to Parliament we wanted. With ignorance, he claimed we were already equal—as if the statistics lie about the rates of incarceration, suicide and chronic disease; as if barely three percent of the population, subject to a ‘race power’ in the Constitution, are truly represented in Federal Parliament.
We knew he was wrong. We couldn’t take no for an answer because it was the wellbeing of our people, our culture and our families that was at stake.
For three years now, we have campaigned for a constitutionally enshrined First Nations Voice to Parliament—the key claim in the Uluru Statement.
To describe the claim for a Voice, it is simply a guaranteed First Nations representative body. The Voice has been pursued as the priority reform because without a Voice, we cannot use truth-telling to change the nation.
The Voice is also vital to Treaty-making. We need a national representative body to negotiate the Commonwealth’s obligation to Treaties currently being negotiated between First Nations and some State Governments.
In three years, our Peoples’ movement for the Uluru Statement has had some success. We have moved the Government from complete dismissal, to commencing a process of ‘co-design’ for a Voice before considering legislative, executive and constitutional options to establish a Voice.
The Voice is now accepted as the most desired outcome. We have made it a claim they cannot ignore.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart remains a live political document. The campaign continues to grow, and it must. This is the campaign of our lifetimes—our opportunity to follow in the footsteps of our Elders who won the 1967 Referendum.
We must fight to win, however long it takes. Establishing a Voice, a permanent First Nations institution, is the first and most important step on a long road to reaching our rightful place in a country that always was and always will be Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land.
By Thomas Mayor