This year we have seen many highs, lows and downright devastating events and issues in the Indigenous Affairs space. We find ourselves 230 years into a colonised space where our voices are increasingly being drowned out, our allies few and the agenda of oppression growing and strengthening. As we round out another year, it is important to take stock of the year and fortify ourselves for the year ahead.
Not an exhaustive list, nor is it in any particular order, but here I round out some of the big highs and lows for 2017
1. Clinton Pryor - High
The Wajuk, Balardung, Kija and a Yulparitja man now dubbed the ‘Spirit Walker’ buoyed Indigenous people with his extraordinary feat of walking from Perth to Canberra to raise awareness of the plight of our people and raise the profile of the conversation surrounding sovereignty and treaties. He stopped at communities along the way and spoke with elders to discuss what each of them wanted him to raise upon his arrival in Canberra – the ‘Nation’s Capital.’
When Pryor arrived he met with elders and activists at the tent embassy where he was honoured with an official Welcome to Country and collaborated with the activists that converged upon Canberra for the historic event. Politicians came to meet Pryor to show respect and engage in discussion – with one notable absence – Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who waited for Pryor to meet in his courtyard. The reportedly sour meeting ended quickly but the effort of Pryor was not to be diminished by the lack of engagement with the government as Pryor has served to inspire Indigenous young people by demonstrating what can be achieved through determination and courage.
Pryor went on to win the prestigious Dreamtime Person of the Year Award.
2. Government's response to Referendum Council Report - Low
After years of work, consultation and dialogues, the Referendum Council Report was released which recommended that there be a constitutionally enshrined voice to Parliament and an extra-constitutional declaration.
Arguably the most reasonable and compromised position that could be put to the government to consider, but the callous rebuttal telling us everything that we need to know – under the LNP government – patriarchal condescension will continue. Indigenous people having a say over policies and laws that directly affect them is not on the table according to this government. A reality we were all too aware of – but this solidification of political stance is demonstrable of the fight we have ahead of us.
3. Return of Mungo Man - High
The 42,000 year old remains of Mungo Man that were removed by anthropologists over four decades ago have been returned to his final resting place amid a community celebratory welcome. The fight for his repatriation was long and emotional and despite the delays and setbacks experienced throughout the process, the community is keen to move forward and allow him to rest not that he is home on country.
Scientists have said that Mungo Man’s burial was one that intrigued and demonstrated that he was a respected member of the community and the study of his remains rewrote what was known about Indigenous people, however, the communities have pushed for his return since he was removed and now that he is home – his example will inspire many other communities who are seeking to repatriate their ancestors and artefacts.
4. Indigenous poet racially attacked by HSC students - Low
Indigenous poet Ellen van Neervan’s poem ‘Mango’ was included in the 2017 HSC curriculum unbeknownst to her and her first knowledge of this inclusion was the social media tirades from those who were sitting the HSC this year.
Ms van Neervan was subjected to vitriolic racist denigration from HSC students who, in one instance likened her to a monkey, and the ad hominem did not stop there. Despite the NSW Educations Standards Authority being appalled at the attacks and calling for apologies, there remained several students who defended their attacks and minimised the impact of their words.
This is one of multiple examples of notable Indigenous people being subjected to racial vitriol throughout 2017 and is symptomatic of the society in which we live.
5. First Indigenous woman elected to Victorian Parliament - High
Gunnai Gunditj woman Lidia Thorpe has become the first Indigenous woman elected to Victorian Parliament after winning the Northcote by-election. She ran on the Greens ticket and despite personal attacks levelled at her throughout the campaign, she was at all times the personification of integrity. Her platform is primarily to fight for Indigenous rights, women’s rights and those feeling the pressure of simply keeping up with the growing costs of survival. Her maiden speech in parliament has been lauded by the community with her clear understanding of the magnitude of her successful election in inspiring others – particularly young people.
Since being elected she has been given the responsibility to be the Vic Greens spokesperson for Aboriginal Affairs, Sport, Aboriginal Health, Skills and Training and Mental Health.
6. Deaths in Custody - Low
We have seen that - despite an increase in scrutiny of the criminal justice system thanks to social media - Aboriginal deaths in custody continue. The recent death in custody of Tane Chatfield is demonstrable of the systemic issues that the Indigenous community faces. Mr Chatfield was less than a month away from having his matter heard (was ultimately acquitted), confident in his innocence and ultimate release however, the Tamworth prison officers suggested self-harm was the cause of death despite Mr Chatfield’s family confirming he was not in a frame of mind lending itself to self-harm. It is further alleged he had significant physical injuries that were not present when his family visited in the lead up to his untimely death. The investigation continues in relation to Mr Chatfield’s death.
The deaths in custody in recent history demonstrate not enough is being done the address the systemic problems and there are calls once again to implement the recommendations that came from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Deaths in Custody.
Without action, we know there will be a continuation of the status quo.
7. Homeground Festival - High
Sydney Opera House played host to Indigenous dancers from across the country in which spectators were treated to the Indigenous performances during the Dance Rites competition which is a national Indigenous dance competition which aims to ensure important cultural knowledge including language, dance, skin markings and instruments is shared from one generation to the next. The 2017 winners were the Kulgoodah dancers of the Woorabinda dance group who gave a goose bump inducing performance of cultural magnificence and took out the $20,000 first prize.
8. Mining and ecological devastation - Low
Despite a plethora of climate science (and decades more of Indigenous vocal objection) which confirms the ecological damage of mining for non-renewable resources for energy consumption, we continue to rail against the mining projects being given the green light by the government. Two notable mining projects of course are the Adani mine which will see the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef and other local cultural areas and the coal seam gas mining in the Pilliga which will destroy the water tablelands and a great many cultural sites.
Despite growing community sentiment against mining projects of this nature, the government continues to support mineral mining and places emphasis on jobs as the rationale.
9. Blacktivism - High
2017 has seen strong blacktivism on many issues from the protection of land and country from destructive mining activities, to criminal justice advocacy, political and economic equity and most importantly, the pursuit of human rights and the protections needed to ensure them.
10. Suicide, poverty and the politics of oppression - Low
230 years of colonisation have wrought havoc for the Indigenous population of this country with epidemic rates of suicide, particularly in our youth, a growing poverty problem and political mechanisms which are designed to punish if the assimilation agenda is not embraced. Remote communities and the people within them are viewed as pursuing a ‘lifestyle choice’ rather than their right to practice culture on country and accordingly, governmental policies which disenfranchise and reinforce poverty such as cashless welfare and CDEP, continue to oppress and contribute to the growing mental health crisis.
Until the dynamic and rhetoric changes, the poverty will continue to eat away at the fabric of our communities.
11. NAIDOC, Black women and laying the foundation for 2018 - High, Higher, Highest
With the announcement of the NAIDOC theme ‘Because of Her, We Can!’ and the clear celebration of black women ahead of us for 2018 – we can look forward to raising the profile of black women and having positive conversations that change the narrative of what has pervaded for the last 230 years. 2018 sees an opportunity for us to shift the dynamic, the be in control of conversations and have the power to set the frame and context of conversations about us.
2017 has been a difficult year of loss, devastation, mourning and outrage amid some scattered beauty to maintain the fire and hope for the future. 2018 is a year to change the conversation, control the message and grow understanding of our message and our pursuit of an equitable future for our children and communities.
Have safe holidays and New Year – repair your spirits and refresh your energy and get ready for 2018!
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