by Joe Annetts

On 7 February 2011, seven elders from Northern Territory Aboriginal communities addressed a 400-strong audience at Melbourne University. This ”Conversation with the Elders” began with the premise that the Intervention, begun in 2007 and continuing to the present, was an unfair imposition by the Australian territory on the lives of thousands of Aboriginal people, effectively branding them as lesser citizens.

Each elder spoke about how their community was traumatised by the Intervention, and now living in deep despair and frustration. The issues they raised include: quarantining of welfare, abolition of local languages in schools, the imposition of shire structures that bypass community decision-making, government business managers who monitor community members, government refusal to maintain basic conditions in homelands, and artificial ‘hub towns’ creating conditions for yet more violence and despair. The formation of new shires, for example, includes the removal of access to vehicles used to transport people to medical appointments, and removal of access to community computers, photocopiers and fax machines.

aboriginal eldersThe elders detailed the fundamental issues, such as the impact of compulsory land leases that attack the very heart of Aboriginal connection to land, the failure to consult with the real leaders of the Aboriginal communities, the elders, who are the custodians of Aboriginal Law which has ordered their lives for tens of thousands of years, and the failure last year to fully re-instate of the Racial Discrimination Act, as called for by the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

Two members of the elders group, Rosalie Kunoth-Monks and Rev. Dr. Djiniyini Gondarra, spoke about delivery of their summary of the situation in the NT under the Intervention via the report ‘Loss of Rights’ to the UN CERD in August 2010. They spoke emotionally about how much support they got through this action, support that is not widely given within their own country.  
These quotes from two of the elders highlight the depth of hurt experienced:

Rosalie Kunoth-Monks“When I travelled to Geneva in the company of Dr Gondarra, I was not quite sure how we were able to express not only the pain, but the control and the loss of dignity, the loss of rights of Indigenous Australians. At the end of that or during that visit, I also felt for the first time that I was indeed a part of the human race”.

George Pascoe “What the Intervention has brought us… It’s like me thinking again back in history to the 1920’s and 1930’s when Neville, the chief protector, said let’s extinguish indigenous people from the race as a dying pillar. That was one of the things that came across my mind in my homeland. Today, Intervention did literally, I say literally, deliberately come across to us as a history that never ends. Today, we are fighting for what we have, the justice,  the freedom, the rights to our land, the things that we own, our culture, the diversity of our culture that has existed 40,000 years ago, is still practised, and today here we are and there is no retreat, no surrender and we are here to tell you who we are.”

The final part of the conversation was the issuing of an ‘Elder’s Statement’ to all Australians, as follows:

NorthernTerritory statment

The question is what action can we, as Christians, take to support our fellow citizens, our brothers and sisters? We can all take action by spreading the ‘Elder’s Statement’ throughout our networks, and we can speak out by writing to and/or meeting with our local Federal politicians. Can you take up the challenge?

Joe Annetts
20 February 2011

A transcript of the Elders Conversation and the ‘Loss of Rights’ report can be accessed along with other information about the Intervention on the SPC website.

If you would like to hear an audio podcast of this event please click HERE.

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