The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is an opportunity for Australians to compare and contrast the position of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with Indigenous peoples in other countries.
Unfortunately, it falls at a time which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders describe as a low ebb in Indigenous Affairs in Australia.
The appalling treatment of juvenile detainees in the Northern Territory serves to remind Australians of the hugely disproportionate incarceration rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of all ages.
While the disparities in life expectancy and health and education outcomes of First and non-Indigenous Australians is well known, for the past several years we see that the gap stubbornly remains ever present.
Meanwhile, media commentators like Bill Leak contribute to deteriorating race relations by publishing overtly racist cartoon in the national press.
What is the Australian Government’s track record in these events?
We have a batch of new Senators baying for the repeal of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
We have a Minister for Indigenous Affairs who openly says that reports of what might fairly be described as torture of juveniles did not pique his interest.
We have cut backs in expenditure for Indigenous programs to the tune of half a billion dollars.
We have a Prime Minister who having promised to work collaboratively with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, appointed a Royal Commissioner in a knee-jerk manoeuvre without any consultation whatsoever, only to have him resign after four days.
We have successive governments who say they are committed to Constitutional Reform to recognize Australia’s First Peoples, nevertheless show no leadership in achieving this goal.
In spite of these and other demoralising recent events, the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples is cautiously optimistic that with political will, the situation can be turned around.
We call on the Commonwealth to commit to:
Meet with representatives chosen by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples within the first hundred days of the new parliament in a National Summit to reset the relationship with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and
Adopt the Redfern Statement as a blueprint for improving race relations and the well-being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
This year, the theme of the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is education. The National Congress believes that education is key to the long term well-being, prosperity and integration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia’s social, political, economic and cultural life. In particular, we call upon all educational institutions to be mindful of Articles 14 and 18 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which specifies:
Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.
Indigenous individuals, particularly children, have the right to all levels and forms of education of the State without discrimination.
States shall, in conjunction with Indigenous peoples, take effective measures, in order for Indigenous individuals, particularly children, including those living outside their communities, to have access, when possible, to an education in their own culture and provided in their own language.
Indigenous peoples have the right to participate in decision-making in matters which would affect their rights, through representatives chosen by themselves in accordance with their own procedures, as well as to maintain and develop their own indigenous decision-making institutions.
This does not mean assimilationist education, but involving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents, carers, Elders and community leaders in all aspects of the education enterprise but particularly curriculum and teaching.
Only by making education culturally supportive and meaningful can we close the gap in education outcomes.
As a nation we could proudly recognize Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture as our foundation and an important component of the national heritage.
A win-win outcome awaits us. All we need is courage and commitment, beginning with that of our elected representatives in the national parliament.
Contact: Tamara Giles: 0457 877 408