These reforms represent the unified national position of First Nations peoples on what constitutional change needs to occur in order to give us some say in decisions that governments and others make about us, to redress the historical mistreatment of our people, and to eliminate the inequalities based on race that still exist today.
The creation of a ‘First Nations Voice’ is important because we have always valued voice. Whether in song or as everyday spoken language, we have relied on our voice to carry our culture and knowledge over 65,000 years. However, since colonisation in Australia, our voice as an equal member of Australian society has been suppressed and the use of our languages were banned to the point where many languages have now been lost forever.
With 2019 being celebrated as the United Nations International Year of Indigenous Languages, we should celebrate the fact that many First Nations peoples’ languages have not only survived colonisation but are making a comeback and some are starting to be taught in schools around the country. They are the first words spoken on this continent and should be treated as a precious cultural resource of our nation. Languages passed down lore, culture and knowledge for over millennia, and while the language needs to be celebrated, it’s the voices and messages too that need to be listened to.
Australians need to learn the truth of our shared history and lived experiences, and to acknowledge in our hearts and minds that changes are essential to create a better future. This work must be done collectively - it is not just the responsibility of First Nations’ peoples.
It is not unreasonable that First Nations peoples want to be able to participate in making decisions about matters that affect them, instead of having things done to them, or for them, without any input. For generations, we have sought recognition of our unique place in Australian history and society today. To this end, we want to see lasting and effective agreements such as Treaties - which cannot be achieved unless we have a shared, truthful understanding of the nature of the dispute, of the history, of how we got to where we stand today.
In the colonisation of Australia, there were no treaties, no formal settlements, no compacts. First Nations peoples therefore did not cede sovereignty to this land, it was taken away from them, and this remains a continuing source of dispute. Australia is one of the few democracies around the world which still does not have a treaty or treaties or some other kind of formal acknowledgement or arrangement with its Indigenous minorities.
Critically, Treaties are inseparable from Truth. Hearing this history is necessary before we can come to some true reconciliation, some genuine healing for both sides. The Uluru Statement from the Heart has called on a ‘Makarrata’—a reconciliatory process comprising the establishment of a commission to supervise processes of "agreement-making" and "truth-telling" between First Nations peoples and the Australian government.
According to the 2018 Australian Reconciliation Barometer, 80 per cent of Australians believe it is important to undertake formal truth-telling processes, so it seems that Australians are ready to come to terms with our history as a crucial step towards reconciliation.
Uncovering the truth about what is, in many aspects, an ugly past, does require people to be courageous, and not to fear reprisals, scorn or blame if they speak up. We need to make a safe place to have this conversation. The history of our First Nations peoples is the history of all of us, of all of Australia, and we need to own it - only then we can move forward together.
In May 2019, Lendlease joined together with 13 other Elevate Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) organisations to publicly commit to work collaboratively with First Nations’ peoples to work towards realising the vision outlined in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Through this, and our Elevate RAP, we support their aspirations for equal social, employment and economic participation, community development, self-determination and strong governance.
Lendlease will continue to raise awareness about the Uluru Statement from the Heart amongst our employees, supply chain, clients and the public.
We each have unique skills, talents, and experiences which we can use to talk to the people in our lives and spheres of influence, to give them the right information and motivation to be part of this important and historic movement for true social change and the cementing of First Nations Peoples’ voices and rights to self-determination as principles in this nation’s founding document.
Cath Brokenborough is a proud Wiradjuri woman and Executive Lead of Indigenous Engagement and Reconciliation at Lendlease, where she has led the development of two Reconciliation Action Plans, including our current Elevate-level RAP.