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Activist Isabelle Coe and a traditional dancer take part in a scared fire ceremony.

Aboriginal protestors gathered to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy last Thursday, the majority of media coverage focused on a perceived threat of violence towards Prime Minister Julia Gillard, rather than on the group’s calls for representation and the recognition of sovereignty.

Michael Anderson, the last surviving founder of the Tent Embassy, stressed that the 1872 Pacific Islands Protection Act (which includes Australia) asserts Queen Victoria saying “I know not claim dominion or sovereignty over the Aboriginal people and their places or their leaders.” Mr Anderson continued by adding “the Government and the courts in this country haven’t got a high hope from now on, to take us on… because we will force these issues.”

Mr Anderson addressed the 1000-strong crowd, many of whom had gathered from interstate, on the subject of land rights, saying “we own this country; we’ve never given it away.

They’ve never beat us in war, they’ve never asked us to cede, they’ve forced us into situations, and look at us… we’re still standing, we’re still strong.”

One of the original Tent Embassy activists Paul Coe, spoke about the creation of Australia as a sovereign entity, contrary to Aboriginal people’s sovereign rights. “They never asked us. They never included Aboriginal people in what they were on about; we were excluded, marginalised, as if we didn’t exist… and unfortunately, that same process is still going on right now as we speak.”

Activist Michael Anderson in front a line of police.

The three-day-long program of events and workshops held at the Embassy were designed to celebrate the achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander activists, but also to honour those who defended the Embassy and have since died. “Here in 2012 we gather at this very sacred site, to pay tribute to those generations of patriots, to those men and women who’ve stood for the struggle… our blood is on that ground. The cops came here and smashed us, and we stood there as one mob, and we got up again,” says Murri Activist Sam Watson.

Prominent activist Rosalie Kunoth-Monks stated that the Invasion Day ceremonies were emotionally taxing for many involved, after hearing a roll-call of names of the deceased members of the original Tent Embassy protests in 1972. “Today we’re reminiscing about the struggles that we’ve had and just listening to that and thinking of the plight of the First Australians… Australia Day still brings a lot of pain.”

Throughout the day, speakers from a cross section of nations and age groups spoke about a desire for self-determination and adequate national representation, with many referring to oft-quoted Indigenous public figures in Government as ‘gate-keepers’. Ms Kunoth Monks said: “the acknowledgement of black people as the first residents of this land is denied by our Government and it is a heartless, uncaring attitude by those that are supposed to be representing us.”

Elder Harry Nelson of Yuendumu, also brought attention to what he sees as a misrepresentation of his people, by those Aboriginal members on the advisory board with the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, saying “I find it really disgusting and shameful that these advisors to the Minister have never been to these communities, never spoken to us or sat around in a circle, discussing our problems.

The only advice that they give the Minister, is what they read in the papers.”

Similar sentiments were echoed by members of the Aboriginal Provisional Government, who issued an Invasion Day statement, saying “in a democracy, it is the right of Indigenous peoples to select their own representatives.

In the last 16 years, the opportunity for Aboriginal people to have our say has been stage managed by government and its lackeys, and the agenda has been theirs, not ours.”

1972 Aboriginal protest flag.

Redfern community leader Lyall Munro stated that Northern Territory Intervention should also be on the lips and tongues of all Aboriginal people in this country and claims “we cannot be free in the south unless our people in the Territory are free.

“We have to attack this racist indoctrination of our people for the want of land… what is happening up there is disgraceful and defies all international conventions that this country has signed and ratified.”

Barbara Shaw of the Intervention Rollback Action Group in Alice Springs feels strongly about the impact of the Intervention on the lives of local Aboriginal people, saying “four years I’ve been fighting the Intervention, and then they announce they’re going to have another Intervention for ten years.

We’ve had an Intervention for 200 years… we know what we want for our people. When will enough be enough?”

On the subject of Tony Abbott’s earlier comments on the Tent Embassy, in which he stated activists should ‘move on’, Ms Shaw said: “he is a coward to say that behind closed doors to the media… politicians and their parties need to recognise and understand and acknowledge that people were here before them. And we’ve got nowhere else to go, we were here first and we’re here to stay.”

Isabelle Coe is the wife of the late Billy Craigie, another of the Tent Embassy’s original founders. She has devoted her life to working for Aboriginal sovereignty and recognition. Looking back on the birth of the Embassy, Ms Coe said: “the people that came here back then, we only came here for one thing, and that was tell to the government that this country belongs to Aboriginal people.

I hope I don’t have to stay here for another 40 years.”

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A recent protest held in Bankstown demanded an end to next year’s nation-wide trial of compulsory income management, which will see $4500 spent on each individual per annum, under the Northern Territory-style system.

The Not in Bankstown, Not Anywhere coalition of Indigenous and non-Indigenous groups organised the rally of over 100 local figures and supporters, in order to send a clear message to Federal Government, that income management will stigmatise already vulnerable members of the community by quarantining 50-70 percent of their welfare payments on the BasicsCard.

Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon on income management in Bankstown

Bankstown is one of five trial sites that are set to receive income management, in which recipients, mostly migrant and refugee groups, must shop for food and other ‘necessary items’, using a separate queue at Government-approved stores, namely Woolworths and Coles.

Speaking at the rally was Alice Springs Campaigner Barbara Shaw, who has lived under the Intervention since its inception. “The thing that I hate about going shopping with my BasicsCard, and I see it on everyone else’s faces too, is the treatment and attitudes of the shop assistants and other customers” said Shaw, “I’ve witnessed shop keepers putting away food that might be vital for a family, without asking, if customers don’t have enough on their BasicsCard. It’s shameful the way we have to put up with that. But if we respond, they just get rude.”

Barbara Shaw on living under the Intervention.

Members of the Not in Bankstown, Not Anywhere coalition fear that this kind of treatment will spread from being targeted solely at Indigenous communities under the Northern Territory Emergency Response, to the 20,000 new Indigenous and non-Indigenous people who are deemed socially disadvantaged by the Government. As some commentators have noted however, Bankstown is statistically less disadvantaged then many nearby areas.

Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, who also spoke to the crowd in Paul Keating Park, labelled the continuation and spread of the Intervention’s policy of income management “the rottenest policy that this government has come up with” adding that the $117.5 million scheme is “money that should be going on creating jobs and creating social services that are so badly needed in this area.”

Protesters against compulsory income management in Bankstown. Photo: Tamara Dean.

Bankstown Elder Aunty Carol Carter expressed her anger over the continued Intervention into Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, saying “They’re removing people from their country where they’re comfortable and pushing them into communities in town, where they’ve got problems with alcohol. If they want to see drunken violence, they should go to Kings Cross and they’ll see that every Friday and Saturday night.”

Aunty Carol was one of many people at the protest who voiced opposition to the Government plan, stating it was discriminatory and demeaning. “How dare they tell us what food stuffs to buy” she said, “The Government should be absolutely ashamed of themselves. They started it, and it will stop here in Bankstown.”

Paddy Gibson on the effects of the Basicscard.

Executive Director of the Arab Council of Australia and Bankstown resident Randa Kattan, will travel back to Alice Springs with local Barbara Shaw, to support Indigenous leaders in opposing income management and to speak to residents about the effects of being on the BasicsCard.

For a related in-depth article on the protest in Bankstown, click: here.

Freedom Riders Curators Matt Poll and Katie Yuill

Today marks the end of Freedom Riders: Art & Activism 1960’s to Now, a two-month-long art exhibition at the University of Sydney Art Gallery, curated by Matt Poll and Katie Yuill.

The exhibition, which celebrates both the history of Aboriginal activism in New South Wales and the work of some of the states leading Indigenous artists, takes as its inspiration a powerful portrait of Dr Charles Perkins by the artist Robert Campbell Jnr. Both the artist, who has a number of works in the exhibition, and his subject are today regarded as groundbreaking in their exposition of Indigenous inequalities. As Robert Campbell Jnr states, “I am painting to show people – Aboriginal people, and even the whites – what truths took place in my lifetime: for example, being fenced off at the pictures; the dog-tag system. I am telling the stories, the struggle of Aboriginal people, tribal and others, through my life”.

Portrait of Charles Perkins, by Robert Campbell Jnr

The well-received exhibition opened to a full house on the 3rd of July with many of the artists in attendance. Its aim was to pay tribute to what Professor Ann Curthoys, an original ‘freedom rider’  calls the “enduring legacy” of the 1965 Freedom Ride, organised by a group of University of Sydney students, including Charles Perkins, who went on to be the first Indigenous graduate of the University and a prominent leader of the Aboriginal rights movement. As Ann Curthoys states, students like Charles Perkins and Gary Williams, a Gumbaynggir man “helped unite two emerging forces that were beginning to change Australian society; the Aboriginal rights movement and student radicalism”.

Barred From the Baths, By Robert Campbell Jnr 1968

domestic lean-to, by Johnathon Jones 2008

Also bearing witness to the Freedom Ride of 1965 and the climate of segregation and exclusion that the student demonstrations were against, is the installation of the documentary film Blood Brothers- Freedom Ride, made by Rachel Perkins and Ned Landers. The inclusion of the film in the exhibition brings together the artworks not only conceptually, but also as politically informed artistic statements on the practical conditions and struggles of Indigenous people, then and now.

Adam Hill’s K9 vs. bloodline on the breadline, for example, speaks of the artist’s concerns for the contemporary struggle of both rural and urban Indigenous peoples in regards to the discriminatory behaviour of police and the Northern Territory Intervention specifically, saying the painting ”was produced in opposition to the racist John Howard’s [Northern Territory] Intervention implementation”. Adam Hill describes his painting, one of the most emotionally charged in the Freedom Riders exhibition, as one of “urban payback”, saying the image is “from the heart – mine and from the heart of Redfern, an ode to TJ [Hickey] and all local mob who in the course of Redfern history have gone unrecognised officially while the officials become more official. Redfern is the police punching bag of NSW”.

K9 vs. bloodline on the breadline, by Adam Hill 2008

 

Read a related story on the very recent resignation of Curator Hetti Perkins from the AGNSW due to the “sidelining” of Indigenous Art: here.

Yesterday marked the four-year anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples. The declaration was adopted on the 13th of September 2007, over 20 years after it was initially drafted in consultation with Indigenous groups and spokespeople across the world.

The non-binding document describes the rights of Indigenous peoples to self-determination, as well as their rights to express their cultures, identities and languages, while it also sets a universal standard for employment, education and health outcomes within Indigenous communities.

Australia, under the Howard Government, along with Canada, New Zealand and the United States originally voted against the Declaration, which was endorsed by 143 other nations. At the time, some conservative Australian political figures and the media voiced their concerns that the Declaration’s definition of self-determination would mean “we are prepared to have a separate Indigenous state”, as Alexander Downer stated in The Age.

A mural celebrating the ideal of equality, in Redfern, South Sydney.

After Kevin Rudd’s 2008 election promise to support the UN Declaration, the Australian Government officially endorsed it on the 3rd of April 2009, in a statement to Parliament by Minister for Families, Housing, Community Service and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin. Quoting the numerous articles in the Declaration that condemn forced assimilation and the destruction of Indigenous culture, as well as the removal of peoples from their lands, Jenny Macklin stated “Today Australia takes another important step to make sure that the flawed policies of the past will never be re-visited”.

In a joint statement to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues Relating to the Declaration, held earlier this year, Deputy Secretary of the Department of FaHCSIA Cath Halbert, and Chairperson of the Torres Strait Regional Authority John Toshie Kris, were keen to stress the Australian Government’s continued support of the Declaration, saying “Australia’s Indigenous policies are consistent with the spirit of the Declaration…the Australian Government has worked hard to ensure that our commitment to open and collaborative engagement with Indigenous Australians is upheld.”

But UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Issues Professor James Anaya, has reported that Australia’s legal and policy landscape still needs reform, recommending that “Commonwealth and State Governments should review all legislation, policies, and programs that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, in light of the Declaration”. Upon visiting Australia in April of this year, his second trip to Australia in two years, Professor Anaya noted the continued importance of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, stating the Federal Government “should seek to fold into its initiatives the goal of advancing indigenous self-determination, in particular by encouraging indigenous self-governance at the local level, ensuring indigenous participation in the design, delivery, and monitoring of programs, and promoting culturally-appropriate programs that incorporate or build on indigenous peoples’ own initiatives. Additionally, further efforts are needed to secure indigenous peoples’ rights over lands, resources and heritage sites”.

While the Declaration is non-legally binding, Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda sees the article as illustrative of a moral framework through which Governments should act, saying “It is only when we can see these articles being translated from abstract concepts to practical improvements in our lives that the spirit and intent of the Declaration will be realised”.

An ABC report announcing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and Australia’s then dissent.

For more information on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, click: here, and here.

On September the 1st, Gleebooks hosted the Sydney launch of the recently published, Walk With Us: Aboriginal Elders Call Out to the Australian People to Walk With Them in Their Quest For Justice.

The book articulates the views of Aboriginal elders who gathered in Melbourne earlier this year to discuss the impact of the Northern Territory Intervention on their communities. The opinions of some leading non-Indigenous Australians are also represented in the book.

"Walk With Us" was launched in Sydney on the 1st of September

The book is the sequel to the well-received This Is What We Said: Aboriginal People Give Their Views on the Northern Territory Intervention, which was based on video footage of Government consultations in 3 Aboriginal communities, community regional reports and 5 government regional reports.

Walk With Us also includes information on consultations with Navi Pillay, the UN Human Rights High Commissioner, who flew into Darwin to especially to meet with Aboriginal Elders and leaders from across the  Territory.  The Commissioner sensed the very, “… deep hurt and pain that they have sufferedand has joined other world and Australians leaders in their calling for immediate changes.

Conversation with Elders held at the Melbourne University Law School on 7 Feb 2011. From left to right: Dhanggal Gurruwiwi from Yirrkala, George Gaymarani Pascoe from Milingimbi, Rosalie Kunoth-Monks OAM from Utopia, Betty Pike, a Nyoonga woman from SW Australia, Miriam Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann AM from Nauiyu (Daly River), Djapirri Mununggirritj from Yirrkala, Rev Dr. Djiniyini Gondarra OAM from Galiwin'ku and Harry Jakamarra Nelson from Yuendumu

The book was launched by Nicole Watson, Research Fellow at Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning, and Dr. Jeff McMullen of Ian Thorpe’s Fountain for Youth.

Walk With Us will be launched in Perth on the 14th of September, with nation-wide launches being organised by Concerned Australians, from whom these images were also sourced.

To watch videos from the launch, click here.

To read a related article about the launch at Gleebooks, click here.


The Federal Government’s proposal to roll-out income management in Bankstown was protested outside the office of MP Tanya Plibersek on the 26th August, with Indigenous spokespeople, activist groups and union representatives gathering to demand an end to the Northern Territory Intervention, as well as the expansion of income management nation-wide.

The plan to expand the BasicsCard in July 2012 will cost $117.5 million over five years and will see income management introduced to Bankstown and four other trial sites across Australia. Daphne Lake, Aboriginal Elder and Bankstown resident slammed the proposal stating, “We don’t want to go back to those days, the ration days… It’s just going backwards”.

Sue and Daphne Lake speaking at the Gurindji Freedom Day Rally, oustide the office of MP Tanya Plibersek

The rally marked the 45th anniversary of Gurindji Freedom Day, celebrating the Wave Hill Walk-off, with similar demonstrations being held around the country in solidarity with the 1000-strong protest and celebration at Kalkarindji in the Northern Territory, the original site of the 1966 walk-off. But Gurindji spokesman John Leemans says the Intervention has taken away many of the rights his people fought hard to win stating, “We want control of our land back. We want to be able to practice our culture and speak our language. We want jobs created so we can work in our community”. But rather than ‘closing the gap’, Government statistics show that in the last four years Indigenous incarceration rates have risen by almost 30 percent, school attendance is down in many places, and suicide has increased.

Currently in the Northern Territory, Indigenous people have fifty percent of their Centrelink payments quarantined onto the BasicsCard. This card can only be used to purchase goods at Woolworths or Coles in prescribed areas, making it difficult for Indigenous communities to remain living on their traditional homelands.

Many non-Indigenous Bankstown residents have expressed concern that they’ll also be put on the BasicsCard. Sue Gillett, daughter of Daphne Lake and member of the Public Service Association NSW, spoke about the de-racialisation of income management, saying the policy will potentially apply to refugee and migrant groups, “Now they’re looking at us as the big disadvantaged groups, not looking at the factors that might be contributing to disadvantage or the things that people need to help them out of that cycle,” adding that “consultation about this has been very woeful; Bankstown didn’t even know it was coming their way”.

“It’s a band aid effect to a very complex social issue, and managing the income of people is not going to solve anything. All it will do is drive the issues that compound disadvantage underground. People will not report if they’re victims of domestic violence, because that would mean an automatic referral to Centrelink to be on income management. And this will have a flow-on effect to frontline state services”, she said.

The protest was also attended by members of the newly-formed Say No to Government Income Management: Not in Bankstown, Not Anywhere Coalition, a group which has more than forty organisations including faith-based agencies, businesses and peak bodies endorsing their position against income management.

A satirical take on the Basicscard

Speaking on behalf of the Bankstown Coalition, Violet Roumeliotis of the Migrant Resource Centre said, “We are opposed to income management because it epitomises everything that is wrong with the Northern Territory Intervention. It is entrenched in racist assumptions about Aboriginal people. It assumes they’re incapable of managing their own lives and it imposes harsh measures that control, rather than create, opportunities. It demonises the most vulnerable and disempowered in our society”, and this is what the Bankstown Coalition fears will happen locally.

A recent report from the Equality and Rights Alliance, funded by the Government, interviewed hundreds of women on the BasicsCard in the Northern Territory. Most of those interviewed did not know why they had to receive the BasicsCard, stating they felt a lack of respect and a loss of self-dignity. 97 percent of the women felt that they did not need help managing their money. 91 percent said it did not change any circumstances within their lives. 79 percent said that they did not like the BasicsCard and wanted to stop using it now.

A protestor's placard, outside the Gurindji Freedom Day Rally

Organisers of the rally, the Stop the Intervention Collective Sydney, have praised the findings as evidence that the income management system is damaging. Dave Suttle of the Stop the Intervention Collective stated, “This is compulsorily pushed onto women and men in the Northern Territory, purely based on race. The Government thinks it can expand this policy nationally. They talk about ‘evidenced based policy’ but the reports that they are funding are showing the exact opposite of what they’re telling the world.”

John Leemans of Kalkarindji, who met with MP Jenny Macklin the day earlier to demand an end to the Intervention, sent his support to the Sydney protest, saying “We’re in this together, we’re gonna fight it together and we’ll win it together.”

Related articles on Sydney’s Gurindji Freedom Day protest: here and here.

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