It's a day declared in 1994 by the United Nations following their first working group meeting to promote and protect the world’s Indigenous populations of which, although accounting for a mere five percent of the population, account for 15 percent of the world’s poorest.
The theme for 2017 is the 10th anniversary of the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), which was adopted by the General Assembly in 2007, by a majority of 144 states in favour, four votes against (Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States) and 11 abstentions (Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burundi, Colombia, Georgia, Kenya, Nigeria, Russian Federation, Samoa and Ukraine).
It of course comes as no surprise that Australia was one of the countries that voted against the declaration in 2007, given the prevailing community views, and that of the government, of Indigenous people here.
The government reversed their views two years later by adopting the declaration in parliament and noting “it contains 46 articles which outline Indigenous people's rights in international law, but it is not legally binding and cannot override domestic law.”
The implementation of the UNDRIP in Australia has been symbolic only, with the government conceding at the time of endorsing the UNDRIP that it had no legal effect upon domestic law. Since the adoption of the UNDRIP in Australia, the prevailing circumstances for Indigenous peoples have not improved.
Professor Megan Davis, at the time of the Australian adoption of UNDRIP, advocated for entrenched rights but in the absence of them in Australia, the international instruments could have persuasive authority and said:
“The Declaration reveals the contemporary way in which Indigenous peoples’ lives and cultures have developed. It recognises the importance of Indigenous rights to land and situates that right between the state and the Indigenous domain. The Declaration provides an instructive list of standards that increasingly is being practiced by member states, courts, United Nations agencies and human rights advocates. For this reason the Declaration will be immensely important for Indigenous strategy in native title, especially through the courts.”
In the eight years since Australia has adopted the declaration, the hopes of the Indigenous community that the UNDRIP would have any demonstrable impact on domestic laws and policies as they affect Indigenous people have effectively been dashed with native title laws being consistently watered down to make way for mining interests.
The prevailing circumstances of Indigenous people in Australia is in decline with the highest rates of child removal since the Bringing them Home Report, the highest rates of incarceration since the since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, highest levels of youth suicide in the world, over 10 years of the Intervention and an expansion of the racially targeted CDEP program.
This year’s #IndigenousDay is an opportunity to place our domestic policies under a microscope and see where we have failed to live up to the principles of the UNDRIP and demand better outcomes. As suggested by Professor Megan Davis, it is also an avenue we can use to assert our rights as a peoples which it becomes ever apparent that we should be doing, given the repeated denial of our rights as a people and repeated imposition of laws and policies that have a material effect on our communities without any consultation.
Indigenous people continue to take to the streets to protest their treatment, so this #IndigenousDay make sure you shine a light on the issues affecting your community and Indigenous people across the country. Join us in raising the conversation and keeping it going.