• Uluru Statement from the Heart and its supporters (NITV)Source: NITV
To practice makarrata is to seek a full understanding of a conflict and, after this understanding has been reached, seek a settlement for both conflicting parties and next generations.
By
Dr Elfie Shiosaki

21 Oct 2020 - 4:57 PM  UPDATED 9 Nov 2020 - 10:51 AM

Kaya (hello).  I write these words from Whadjuk boodja (Country) and acknowledge Whadjuk moort (kin) of the Noongar Nation, their ancestors and Elders, and Whadjuk story cycles and katitjin (knowledge).

Always was.

Always will be.

This truth beats rhythmically in the heart of peacebuilding with First Nations people.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, we co-exist in a post-conflict nation which has not yet made peace with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We have not yet sought a full understanding of our conflict.  Instead, we find ourselves in a seemingly unending storytelling war with each other. Each generation continues to inherit unreconciled histories of invasion, genocide and intergenerational trauma and unreconciled relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. These histories bleed into the contemporary international movement for Black Lives Matter. For centuries, First Nations people have protested against state violence, and the normalisation of this violence. 

Whether we acknowledge it or not, we co-exist in a post-conflict nation which has not yet made peace with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The 2017 Uluru Statement From the Heart declares that “makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle”. Makarrata is a Yolgnu word for peacebuilding. To practice makarrata is to seek a full understanding of a conflict and, after this understanding has been reached, seek a settlement for both conflicting parties and next generations. Gumatj Elder Dr Yunupingu (2017 np) describes this settlement as “a symbolic reckoning” which acknowledges that “from now on and forever the dispute is settled…it is finished”. The Uluru Statement, as a practice of makarrata, proposed a roadmap towards peacebuilding through truth-telling about Australian national history and agreement-making in a Makarrata Commission.

The call for makarrata in the Uluru Statement is an unmissable opportunity for us to build a legacy of peace for next generations. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander truths about Australian national history recognise and account for astonishing histories of invasion, genocide and intergenerational trauma. They also account for astonishing histories of survival, strength, courage and resilience. This truth-telling recognises the human agencies of Aboriginal people to resist, survive, and renew.

Yet, Australian national history is not Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history. Aboriginal Nations are far more ancient than the Australian nation. We have our own histories and our own practices of making history.  Aboriginal storytelling, as branches of knowledge about who we are and where we come from, has deep roots in our systems of knowledge and our ways of knowing. 

The call for makarrata in the Uluru Statement is an unmissable opportunity for us to build a legacy of peace for next generations.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stories are inscribed into the essence of all land-, water- and skyscapes on our continent. These stories reveal to us how Aboriginal people have belonged to Country for millennia.  In the 21st century, they continue to teach us about belonging to Country.  

In my teaching and research about Indigenous human rights, I have come to understand that First Nations storytelling holds great potential to revitalise our human rights culture, how we think and feel about each other.  This storytelling transforms our understanding of who we are, and where we come from, as a nation of people. It can create shared senses of place which acknowledge First Nations people’s sovereign relationships with Country, center our knowledge and stories of Country, and recognise First Nations people as story custodians, because these stories are imbued with a sovereignty of the heart and mind.

First Nations storytelling is at the beating heart of truth-telling.

First Nations truths ask more of us, more than sharing our sorrow or anger, more than empathy, more than reconciliation with the past and histories of invasion and genocide.

They ask for recognition of who we are, and where we come from.

They ask for recognition of our belonging to Country.

They ask for recognition of our sovereignty. The Uluru Statement describes our ancestral connection to land as our “ownership of the soil”.

They ask for far more than reconciliation with the past. Instead First Nations truths ask for reconciliation with a new future in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are recognised as sovereign and lawful people.

We all have the agency to seek truth. It’s no longer that we didn’t know, or someone else didn’t tell us. It’s that we ourselves haven’t sought to know. 

We all have the agency to seek truth. It’s no longer that we didn’t know, or someone else didn’t tell us. It’s that we ourselves haven’t sought to know.

The proposed Makarrata Commission would supervise a process of truth-telling, and agreement-making between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nations and federal and state governments. Similar commissions have been held in countries such as Canada, New Zealand and South Africa. My hope is that such a Commission recognises the agency of Aboriginal people to determine for themselves the truths we desire to seek.

First Nations people find freedom in storytelling, to restore humanity and integrity to our story cycles, and carve a pathway, with our hands, between ancient and new worlds.

Elfie Shiosaki is a Noongar and Yawuru writer. She is a Lecturer in Indigenous Rights, Policy and Governance at the School of Indigenous Studies at the University of Western Australia, and Editor of Indigenous Writing at Westerly.

This story is edited by Mununjali author Ellen van Neerven for SBS Voices and is part of a NAIDOC Week essay series inspired by the 2020 theme 'Always Was, Always Will Be'. 

National NAIDOC Week (8 – 15 Nov 2020) celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Join SBS and NITV for a full slate of NAIDOC Week content. For more information about NAIDOC Week or this year’s theme, head to the official NAIDOC Week website. #NAIDOC2020 #AlwaysWasAlwaysWillBe