EDITORIAL

Beyond the limits of reconciliation

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On 28 May, half a million crossed Sydney Harbour Bridge in the Walk for Reconciliation. Actions followed in cities and towns across the country — 50,000 participated in Adelaide and 70,000 in Brisbane. But reconciliation is a vague, “feel good” concept, and does not address the fundamental injustices experienced by Indigenous Australians. Many marchers understood this. Banners, placards and statements from participants showed many were there to oppose institutionalised racism and to demand redress for past and present wrongs.

Intervention, not abstention. Some Indigenous leaders, believing that reconciliation is a distraction from the real issues, stayed away from the marches. This response is understandable, but ultimately unproductive. The reconciliation movement has mobilised millions of people motivated by a passion for justice. Leaders must participate in the movement and propose concrete demands highlighting the distinct rights of Indigenous people. This will win many good-hearted people away from the current leadership of “small-l” liberals, who collectively shudder if the words “land rights,” “compensation” or “treaty” are even mentioned!

Seize the day.  Sovereignty must be the centrepiece of any settlement of the two-century long colonial conflict. Prime Minister Howard understands this perfectly, which is why he argues that “to talk about one part of Australia making a treaty with another part is to accept that we are in effect two nations.” Actually, Australia is made up of many Indigenous nations which have never signed away their rights to the colonial settler state. The faint-hearted leaders of the reconciliation movement insist that talk of sovereignty will “scare people away”! Yet the movement for reconciliation points to a new mood of  popular support for Indigenous people, and offers a very real opportunity to negotiate a lasting settlement. It’s time to formally recognise the ancient and continuing land ownership of Indigenous nations, to provide compensation for past crimes, and to abolish the racist inequities in health, education, housing and employment. How can Indigenous peoples be “reconciled” to an alienation from their country? Treaty now!

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