Indigenous Australians say ‘reconciliation is dead’ after ‘Voice’ | ET REALITY


The result of the referendum was decisive and, at the same time, divisive. It struck a blow to indigenous Australians who for decades had hoped that a conciliatory approach would help right the wrongs of the country’s colonial history. Then, the leader of the nation made a supplication.

“This moment of disagreement does not define us. And it will not divide us,” a visibly emotional Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said this month after voters in all but one state and territory rejected the constitutional referendum. “This is not the end of reconciliation.”

But that was a difficult proposition to swallow for indigenous leaders who saw the result as a vote in favor of a tortured status quo in a country already far behind other colonized nations in reconciling with its first inhabitants.

The rejection of Indigenous Voice by Parliament, a proposed advisory body, was widely anticipated. However, it was a severe blow to indigenous peoples, who largely voted in favor. Perceived by many as a denial of their past and their place in the nation, the defeat of The Voice not only threatens to derail any future reconciliation, but could also trigger a much more confrontational approach to indigenous rights and race relations. in Australia.

“Reconciliation only works if there are two parties that are willing to make peace after a fight and move on,” said Larissa Baldwin Roberts, an Aboriginal woman and executive director of GetUp, a progressive activist group that campaigned for the Voice. “But if one of the parties does not acknowledge that there was a fight here, how can they reconcile?”

He added: “We need to enter a space that is maybe not so polite, maybe not so conciliatory and not be afraid to tell people the full story of how dispossession and colonization continue in this country.”

For Marcia Langton, one of the country’s most prominent Aboriginal leaders, the consequences were obvious. “It’s very clear that reconciliation is dead,” she says. saying.

For decades, Langton and others advocated a moderate approach to indigenous rights. They worked within Australia’s reconciliation movement, a broadly bipartisan government approach aimed at healing and strengthening the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples.

A visible sign of this effort is the flying of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags alongside the Australian flag in most official settings. Many public events begin with an acknowledgment of the traditional owners of the land where the event is taking place.

But activists have long said that these demonstrations can be symbolic and that a focus on unity can come at the expense of agitation for indigenous rights. And the referendum has shown that wide schisms still remain in the way Australia views its colonial past (as benign or harmful) and over whether the entrenched disadvantages of indigenous communities are the result of colonization or of the country’s own actions, culture and ways of life of the people.

“We are far behind other countries in their relations with indigenous peoples,” said Hannah McGlade, a law professor at Curtin University in Perth and a member of the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, who is an Aboriginal woman and supporter of the Voice.

In countries such as Finland, Sweden and Norway, the Sami people have the legal right to be consulted on issues affecting their communities. Canada has recognized First Nations treaty rights in its Constitution, and New Zealand signed a treaty with the Māori in the late 19th century.

British colonialists considered Australia uninhabited, and the country never signed a treaty with its indigenous people, who are not mentioned in its Constitution, which was written more than a century after Captain Cook first arrived on the continent.

To rectify this, more than 250 Indigenous leaders met in 2017 and devised a three-step plan for forgiveness and healing. The first was a Voice, enshrined in the Constitution. A treaty with the government and eventually a “truth-telling” process to uncover Australia’s colonial history would follow.

But some indigenous activists argued that forgiveness should not be offered. And other Australians bristled at the suggestion that there was anything to forgive.

“The English did nothing wrong. None of you either,” said one author. wrote for a national newspaper earlier this year. another columnist argument that any compensation paid to Aboriginal people now would be “by people who did not cause the harm today, to people who did not suffer it today.”

Some Aboriginal leaders opposed the Voice but overall, polls showed, the Indigenous community was in favor of it.

But for many opponents, “this was presented as a referendum on race, racial division and privileges, special privileges; really failed to capture and respect the rights of indigenous peoples and the shocking history of colonization, which has devastating impacts to this day,” Ms. McGlade said.

For decades, the country has gone back and forth on how to improve Indigenous outcomes. The community has a life expectancy eight years lower than the national average and suffers suicide and incarceration rates many times higher than the general population.

Although many indigenous leaders and experts have said that the repercussions and trauma of colonization are the root cause of this disadvantage, governments, particularly conservative ones, have resisted this idea. The remedy, some former prime ministers have said, is to integrate remote indigenous communities with wider society.

During the Voice debate, Jacinta Nampijinpa Price, an Aboriginal senator who became a prominent opponent of Voice, echoed this view, saying that Indigenous people faced “no ongoing negative impact of colonization.” Aboriginal communities suffered violence “not because of the effects of colonization, but because young women are expected to be married off to older husbands in arranged marriages,” she added.

These arguments helped galvanize opposition to the Voice.

“A significant part of the Australian public has been able to find legitimacy in that opposition to not accept that past,” said Paul Strangio, a professor of politics at Monash University.

In April, the main opposition party, the conservative Liberal Party, said it would vote against Voice, virtually sealing its fate: constitutional change has never succeeded in Australia without bipartisan support. Its leaders argued that the proposal was divisive, lacked details, could give advice on everything from taxes to defense policy, and was a politically correct vanity project of Mr. Albanese, the prime minister, that distracted people from issues as the high cost of living.

This stance, Strangio said, appealed to a sense of “economic and cultural insecurity” among many voters, particularly those outside big cities.

The details of The Voice, Albanese and other supporters said, would have been debated by Parliament if it had been successful. But the lack of concrete details led to misinformation and disinformation, the volume of which surprised experts.

In such a climate, any quest for stronger policies by indigenous activists may bring a more combative response. On Friday, Tony Abbott, the former Conservative prime minister, said Australia should stop flying the Aboriginal flag next to the national flag, and recognizing traditional place names.

Voice’s defeat, Strangio said, will likely embolden the conservative opposition to continue “the politics of disenchantment, of cultural and economic insecurity, that takes advantage of that politics of grievances.”

And he added: “A polarized and divisive debate awaits us.”

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