The mainstream media remains fixated on constitutional reform, but First Nations from across the country want to talk about something different: sovereignty, land rights and self-determination, and a new summit is hoping to kick-start a movement to reclaim the debate.
Arrernte-Alyawarra elder Rosalie Kunoth-Monks says Aboriginal peoples across the country don’t have time to deal with the debate around constitutional recognition when we are fighting for rights.
“I do not come from that constitution, nor will I be swallowed up into it while the brutal assault is going on with my own constitution,” Ms Kunoth-Monks told New Matilda.
“My constitution is unwritten, but my goodness it’s there.”
Ms Kunoth-Monks is one of 20 members of a new steering committee elected from the Freedom Summit in Alice Springs, which brought together 100 representatives from First Nations communities across the country.
The group released a communiqué reasserting the sovereignty of individual Aboriginal Nations across the country. It is intended to be the first summit amongst many more aiming to reclaim our own futures in a time when Aboriginal rights are under assault and control is being plied away from communities.
While mainstream media seems fixated on elected Aboriginal ‘leaders’, Ms Kunoth-Monks says it’s time to go back to the traditional way.
“It’s not really leadership. It’s about us getting up from the ashes and rising together, because our people are being devastated, like over in Western Australia,” Ms Kunoth-Monks told New Matilda.
“We almost have become immune to deaths in custody. We’ve almost become immune to incarceration rates. We’ve got to address it altogether now.”
The communiqué identifies several issues as “extreme assaults from all levels of government”.
This includes the sky-rocketing rates of Indigenous incarceration, the rates of Aboriginal child removal that is now higher than the days of the Stolen Generations, the tragic suicide epidemic and the growing death rate from preventable diseases.
“In addition, governments have shamefully announced intentions to close down communities in Western Australia and South Australia,” the communiqué reads.
It cites the case of Oombulgurri in Western Australia, which was bulldozed earlier this year, “an act of aggression in an open genocidal process”.
It also mentions the “continuing apartheid and land clearances through the NT intervention”.
“Organisations across the continent are having funding slashed. Heritage laws are being attacked and our culture is being owned by white government ministers,” It reads.
The group has also called for the handpicked Indigenous Advisory Council (IAC) to resign, labelling it a “farce”.
“The structures that are set up to assist us are the structures that are destroying us. Even the education system is wrong. It implants whiteness and alienates our children from their cultural background and the security and safety of that – however fragmented it is – it still is in existence in some parts of Australia,” Ms Kunoth-Monks says.
Ms Kunoth-Monks says the future lies with the youth, but they were being unfairly criticised for their actions, like the recent furore after the Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance (WAR) group burned flags at the recent G20 protests.
“A lot of our people want to be leaders, but they are cutting down our youth,” Ms Kunoth-Monks said.
“The brave action (youth) took to burn the union jack was condemned by some of our leaders or spokespeople or whatever you call it. These people cut the Southern Cross out of the Union Jack because it represented to them the history of our colonisation, in all its forms – murder, rape and everything you can name.
“It’s not the past. Under that flag, the union jack represents current policies that are doing the same, but these policies are far more dangerous in that they are implanting whiteness into our minds.”
Ms Kunoth-Monks says the burning of effigies of prominent Aboriginal people at the G20 sent a strong message on how community felt about Aboriginal leaders promoting government policies.
“It was a challenge. It was visual. They burnt effigies of very strong voices within Australia, and we all know who we are. They were saying we don’t want you to be tapped on the shoulder by a Prime Minister of the day to be utilised against your own people.
“… It’s dangerous when our people throw us out for a pocket full of silver.”
Ms Kunoth-Monks says it is time to turn away from working within the system. The communiqué calls for a return to mass protest.
She says we can’t continue on this destructive journey.
“We are not white. We can’t shed our skins. This rapid destruction is incredible and we are suffering in isolation. What we need is to come together and put the egos of ‘who’s the big spokesman’ well and truly aside. Come together with a common cause and fight the united fight.”
Now the 20 delegates will return to their own communities and start debating the next steps forward.
“This is absolutely just the beginning. It’s the stone being dropped and the ripple going out.”
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