Nova Peris has told the Garma Festival in East Arnhem Land that constitutional recognition of Aboriginal people will have to become a cause for white Australians, not just Indigenous people.
The Northern Territory’s Labor senator and first Indigenous woman elected to federal Parliament was speaking on a panel about the push for a referendum.
The panel included a range of political figures including the first Indigenous person elected to the House of Representatives, Liberal MP Ken Wyatt, former deputy prime minister John Anderson and the head of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council, Warren Mundine.
Senator Peris told the gathering she wanted to speak from the heart.
“As an Aboriginal person and a politician, there’s a saying, ‘you lead first with the heart then with the head’, and I have to refrain myself at times from saying the things I really want to say because of my political hat,” she said.
“So I’m going to take the political hat off for a moment, because what we’re trying to do is to get an entire country to recognise 2 per cent of the population.”
Senator Peris raised the high rate of Indigenous incarceration and wider public perceptions of Aboriginal people.
“This is a problem we’re going to face because white Australia think we get too much, but every single day we’re going to need a helping hand because for too long we have been squashed from the earth we came from,” she said.
“Until you truly shift the mindset of white Australians and make you realise that everyone is here, you’ve all benefitted from 200 years of systemic injustices that have occurred in this country.”
She compared the constitution with Aboriginal culture and traditional law.
“This constitution is a white fella rulebook, it’s Australia’s rulebook, our rules are unwritten laws, and we’ve had that for thousands and thousands of years,” she said.
We are prisoners in our own country: Peris
Senator Peris said the drive for constitutional change would have to come from white Australians.
“This movement needs to come from white fellas, because you need to realise that you’re here in this country and us as Aboriginal people, we are prisoners in our own country,” she said.
“And until you realise that we are literally just wasting our efforts … it’s not a wrong made right.
“I don’t want to be an Aboriginal politician going out there or a traditional owner and begging white fellas to recognise us, because you’re killing us, you’re killing our spirit.”
Senator Peris said the push for change was about all Australians recognising the Indigenous history of the country.
“Because in the wider community it’s irrelevant, when we’ve got chronic disease, heart disease, cardiovascular disease, high incarceration, low education – you list it, it could go on forever and ever.
“It can’t [come] from us, it’s gotta come from you, the non-Indigenous people, who call this place home.”
Senator Peris said she could not understand why programs where school classes are conducted in both English and local Indigenous language were not already being funded, particularly in the Northern Territory.
“We are denied the most basic fundamental human rights of being who we are as Aboriginal people and with regards to how we teach our children and maintaining that cultural connection, and that’s something I’d – hand on heart, without a doubt – take back to the Labor party room.”
- This article originally appears at:
- Article taken from the following publication:
- ABC Indigenous
- Article submitted by:
- Rick Hind