Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Rallying the troops – TO GET OUT OF THE NT

Rallying the troops – TO GET OUT OF THE NT

While tomorrow’s apology to the Stolen Generations has been the topic of news headlines, Liberal Party bitching, talkback radio and dinner table conversations for the last two weeks, the much awaited ‘Sorry’ comes immediately on the back of today’s rally which saw around 2000 gather to demand the human rights of Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory be re-instated.

The rally saw people travel across the country specifically to declare their disgust at the current racist legislation. I met one young Nyungah woman Natasha Moore who had travelled from Perth just for the day. We met as the crowds gathered at the site of the Tent Embassy on the lawns of Old Parliament House (the building that should’ve become the Aboriginal Embassy once!!!). We stood there after Ngambri Elder Matilida House had welcomed politicians to the 42nd sitting of Parliament – a groundbreaking moment in Australian political history.

After we were given a welcome by the Tent Embassy mob at the ceremonial fire we marched, lead by our brothers and sister from the Northern Territory. I marched alongside friends I went to university with 20 years ago, supporters of Residents for Reconciliation in Western Sydney I’d met 10 years ago, family members I was meeting for the first time, local school students in full uniform, and many others (black and white) who were united under the banner ‘STOP THE INTERVENTION – HUMAN RIGHTS NOW’.

We chanted (not so in-time, but I’ve never been to a rally where the chants are ever in sync), and I noticed that even though I’d rallied in four different states in the past 15 years on issues such as land rights, Black Deaths in Custody, the Stolen Generations and the NT Intervention, this was the first rally I had ever participated in that didn’t have police lining the streets or watching our moves. There was not ONE cop to be seen, until we arrived at Parliament House where they formed a protective coating to the building.

The wide range of media present spoke volumes about how the convergence on Canberra was being regarded generally. Apart from the expected Indigenous print, TV and radio media, there was mainstream media from every medium also. I won’t ‘out’ any of the normally considered right-wing stations that employ the shock jocks I never listen to, but these outlets were covering the rally and interviewing key members of the NT representatives on-site. I was heartened by that because it meant that our issues, the issues of Australia, would get some mainstream coverage. It would further put the Rudd Government on notice for what we expect from his term in office, aside from the apology.

I spent much of my day with Aunty Eileen Cummings from the Northern Territory whom I’d met at Sydney meeting of Women for Wik (WFW) in 2007. Aunt is part of the WFW monitoring project to keep a check on what is happening in the NT in lieu of any formal accountability process put in place by the Government.

As a collective WFW supported today’s rally as a statement to the Rudd Government that we demand to see Aboriginal rights as a priority on their agenda. We want to see an end to the lack of respect for the First Nations peoples of this country, which has allowed racist legislation to be enacted in the NT and the human rights of Indigenous Australians to be denied. We believe than an apology will be the first symbolic step in a process that will require actions and resources to ensure Indigenous Australians retain control over our own lives.

When I listened and watched Aunt be interviewed by filmmaker Richard Frankland she made it perfectly clear what needed to be done in the NT: the Government needs to start talking to communities, CDEP needs to be restored so that people can work, and the quarantining of wages needs to end.

She said, “Our people need to get back the power to control what’s happening in our communities. We’re now reliving what happened to us as children when the Native Police came in. Right now in the Territory, I’m reminded of growing up on a mission settlement.”

It is ironic that Kevin Rudd, the man we have placed so much hope in, will be apologising tomorrow for the past injustice, while in the Northern Territory a whole new set of injustices are still be carried out.

Most of us see the apology as an important symbolic and healing gesture for those who have directly suffered under legislation that stole our parents, grandparents, unless, aunts, cousins and friends. Some of us also hope that it comes with some very practical actions to ensure that the future ensures sovereignty for our people as well.

Anita Heiss


Anonymous said...

Cool blog as for me. It would be great to read more about this topic. Thanks for sharing that data.
Joan Stepsen
Computer geek

Dr Anita Heiss said...

Hi Joan - thanks for yours. To follow monitoring the intervention and commentary, check out the What's Working website:
Peace, Anita