Respected Indigenous education leader Chris Sarra said the October night of the NRL Grand Final between the Cowboys and the Broncos was a microcosm of what the future of Australia should look like in his speech to the senate on Friday.
Dr Sarra spoke of the festival as "positive fast thinking about the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia".
"This is the great thing about rugby league," he said.
"On a level playing field we saw the humanity of Indigenous Australians authentically acknowledged, embraced with enthusiasm, and celebrated with passion"
"On a level playing field we saw the humanity of Indigenous Australians authentically acknowledged, embraced with enthusiasm, and celebrated with passion."
Dr Sarra embraced the festival for its presence of young Indigenous Australians who were “nurtured by hope that cultivated their strength”, and Indigenous and non-Indigenous leadership working together with honour and excellence.
To manifest an Australia of that calibre, Dr Sarra called for a treaty. "Acknowledging, embracing and celebrating our humanity means you would find the courage to contemplate some form of a treaty, a document upon which we both agree, no matter how long or complex this task is."
"Acknowledging, embracing and celebrating our humanity means you would find the courage to contemplate some form of a treaty"
His call comes following his announcement through media on Thursday that he supported such legal instrument between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia. "I think it is worth putting a stake in the ground and being committed to that kind of outcome, even if it takes five years or 10 years or 15 years," he told Fairfax Media.
However, on Friday, Dr Sarra called for not just a treaty but a challenge to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull through a great rehaul of Indigenous policy
"Not to pick a fight with him, but because I respect his interest in a positive future for all of us".
"You can bring policy approaches to bash us and bash us and bash us, or you can bring policy approaches that offer hope"
"You can bring policy approaches to bash us and bash us and bash us," he said. "Or you can bring policy approaches that offer hope, and a sense of pride, and a feeling that we can trust and walk with you into what I would call a stronger smarter, more honourable future."
He recalled the day of the NRL grand final where before the competition had commenced he took the opportunity to congratulate Mr Turnbull on his ascendency to prime ministership. During this meet, Mr Turnbull had asked him what three things needed to happen to advance the space of Indigenous policy.
On Friday, Dr Sarra offered him these three approaches.
First, to acknowledge, embrace and celebrate the humanity of Indigenous Australians.
"Acknowledging, embracing and celebrating our humanity means you would never amend the Racial Discrimination Act especially to inflict policy approaches on us in a way that would never be inflicted upon other Australians," he said.
"Our humanity cannot ever be assimilated, nor destroyed."
Second, he called for policy approaches that nurture hope and optimism rather than entrench despair. He used the present policy structure as an example of that crushed hope.
"Makers of Indigenous policy, including government anointed 'so called' leaders, do not understand the fundamental importance of a strength-based approach to community and individual transformation," he said.
"Whilst they may be great at spending taxpayers' money conjuring expensive yet ineffective government programs and quasi-bureaucracies, their unsophisticated, deficit-based elucidations expose them as impotent amidst the profound need for stratified, strength-based approaches to individual and community transformation."
He added that they were "almost completely ignorant" of the need for compassionate understanding of "the stratified ontology” of Aboriginal people and their communities.
"I can assure you that we as Aboriginal people want to be on a journey with you"
Third, he advised Mr Turnbull, "Do things with us, not to us".
"I can assure you that we as Aboriginal people want to be on a journey with you," he said. "This journey however, must be one that enables us to be the best that we want to be, not a journey in which we are forced to be who you want us to be."
Dr Chris Sarra is the founding chairman of the Stronger Smarter Institute and the Australian Rugby League Commissioner.