The Uluru Statement from the Heart stands as a declaration of Indigenous resourcefulness and represents broader agreement among diverse Indigenous communities throughout Australia.
It is without doubt that the processes, meetings and national convention held in Uluru in 2017 marked a turning point in terms of advocating constitutional and governance change, as well as broader reforms for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia.
As an Aboriginal woman, health worker, and educator, the Uluru Statement offers new possibilities and opportunities to advance Indigenous interests, and in doing so enshrine Indigenous voices within the parliamentary and governance process.
Central to the Statement’s agenda is the notion of Makarrata — a Yolngu word from the Top End of the Northern Territory and a process of conflict resolution. Makarrata means “coming together after a struggle”.
While Australia has made marginal progress in terms of Reconciliation and Closing the Gap, I continue to witness the struggles faced by Indigenous people and the disparities in health, education, employment and other outcomes.
In order for the Uluru Statement to advance, it is vital that the public attains deeper understandings of both “the struggle” Indigenous people face as well as the manner in which Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples may “come together”. Healing on a national and individual level can only begin once the harm caused to Indigenous peoples is recognised.
Throughout my work in the university and health sectors, I have continuously seen and worked alongside many non-Indigenous peoples who genuinely seek Reconciliation but do not know where or how to begin.
Simply put, the path to Reconciliation must begin with the truth.
Such truth relates to Australia’s colonial past and present, but must also celebrate our continued achievements, successes and leadership despite the adversities we face.
Deficit readings of history and overwhelming focus on the “problems” faced by Indigenous peoples too often shroud our achievements and contributions. More often than not, we are presented as the problem.
A Makarrata Commission is a governing body that would therefore oversee a truth-telling process where Indigenous lived realities and the systemic failings of Australia’s Constitution, past and present governments, and wider social structures are exposed.
Through recognising this struggle, a more representative and responsive conversation may emerge providing the foundation for agreement-making between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous Australians.
As the Turnbull and Morrison governments rejected the reforms proposed as part of the Uluru Statement, the Australian Government demonstrated its own failure to come together and listen to what Indigenous communities are saying: “We want systemic reform that will legally enshrine our voices within the parliamentary process”.
The Uluru Statement provides the potential for creating real systemic change that will translate into practical forms of Reconciliation.
Studies by organisations such as the Centre for Governance and Public Policy show that the majority (71 per cent) of the Australian public, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, supports constitutional reform, while constitutional lawyers, academics, and other commentators have debunked claims that a Voice to Parliament would equate to a third chamber.
We know that there is an increasing need for people to gain a better understanding of what constitutional reform means to Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. For this reason, endurance and perseverance is required if real and substantive change, rather than symbolic gestures, are to eventuate.
By Bronwyn Fredericks
Professor Bronwyn Fredericks is Pro Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous engagement) at the University of Queensland