• Discussions at Uluru Constitutional Recognition conference (NITV)Source: NITV
Nationwide momentum is building towards a makarrata, with a commission for treaty and reconciliation on the agenda at the next major meeting of Indigenous leaders to discuss constitutional recognition.
30 May 2017 - 4:51 PM  UPDATED 31 May 2017 - 11:44 AM

Politicians are already split over the Uluru Statement, released in central Australia last week, calling for a constitutionally-enshrined Indigenous voice, a makarrata or treaty commission and a truth and healing process.

Makarrata is a Yolngu word referring to coming together after a struggle, and it will be the central theme at this year's Garma Festival in Arnhem Land in August.

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The concept guided discussions around reform models at the historic Uluru summit last week, and will be given fresh impetus as debate around referendum proposals ignites.

Yothu Yindi Foundation chief executive Denise Bowden says makarrata was traditionally a peace-making ceremony to heal divisions of the past between disputing clans.

"Traditionally, a spear to the thigh was an acceptable form of discipline. Once blood had been shed, and the cleansing ritual had taken place, clan groups would consider the dispute had been resolved," she said.

Afterward no grudges were held, and life continued on positively for all.

The principles of makarrata were at last year's Garma, outlined by land rights advocate Dr Galarrwuy Yunupingu, who is almost 70 and was too sick to attend the Uluru convention.

The highly respected Indigenous leader knows what it's like to have his demands for self determination ignored by successive governments.

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He helped his father draft the famous Yirrkala Bark Petition of 1963, the catalyst for the landmark 1967 referendum that included Aboriginal Australians in the census.

Almost 30 years ago, Mr Yunupingu presented the Barunga Statement to then prime minister Bob Hawke, who lost office before he could fulfil his promise of a treaty.

Then, after the landmark 2008 apology to the Stolen Generations, Mr Yunupingu handed a Yirrkala statement to former prime minister Kevin Rudd, requesting full recognition of Indigenous rights in the constitution.

With Reconciliation Week in full swing, Ms Bowden admits the road to recognition won't be easy, but says makarrata has the potential to be a real game-changer.

"Reconciliation won't end with a single act or gesture, but we have to keep working together and there has to be give and take on both sides of the fence," she said.

The 19th annual Garma festival of Indigenous culture will take place near Gove in northeast Arnhem Land from August 4-7.