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The Darker Side of the Recognise Campaign

Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

The Darker Side of the Recognise Campaign

Andrew Ryan

You have probably heard of the Recognise campaign, in all it’s hopeful, well-designed shiny glory. When I first started to notice it around the place, I was so pleased- finally, it looks like Indigenous issues are becoming a mainstream concern in this country! Constitutional recognition! The videos are emotive and heart warming. The music winds pleasantly through any feelings of guilt, shame or sadness you may have about the history of the nation, lifting you up out of it, making you feel involved, helpful, a part of something. Aspirational music. Aspirational script writing.

I carried on with my life, occasionally coming across little bits and pieces about Recognise, and it got more common, and then heaps of people seemed to be involved and/or supportive and it was good to see. And then a few corporations started to sponsor the campaign, and I was like “…hrrrrrrmmmm…” because I have auto-distrust of corporate involvement.

It was around this time that I started to see anti-Recognise words and attitudes popping up in my news keywords email notifications and recommended Facebook pages. I did some research. Some of it came from the more right-wing political commentators, but more of it seems to comes from within the Aboriginal community itself.

I spoke to artist and political activist Richard Bell about the issue; I could see from facebook activity that he is a part of the conversation about the anti-Recognise sentiments.
He had this to say:

“Well, firstly, we were deliberately left out of the original constitution.
So, it is pointless tinkering with that racist document.
We need something completely new that not only recognises aboriginal prior ownership, but also acknowledges that legally.
That is impossible under the current circumstances.
Secondly, the political environment is so poisonous (or toxic as the lingua franca would describe it) that we prefer that no negotiations take place now. These should be be left for more accepting times.
We don’t NEED it now.
We are aboriginal. We know how to wait.”

Turns out that what I thought was a grass-roots campaign was actually started and funded by governmental figures. Which means it could be described as astroturfed, and astroturfing isn’t very cool. Astroturfing is deceptive. It certainly explains all the money and the clever marketing and clean and shiny vibe. And it’s drowning out other voices who have opinions on the topic, drowning out related concerns and issues.

The biggest grass-roots campaigns coming out of Indigenous Australia currently are for Aboriginal sovereignty (the legal recognition of it) which is a different (and bigger) beast entirely.

No treaty was ever made between the colonists and the colonised, no war was ever declared, so it is claimed by some that by their own laws, the colonists are here illegally, despite it being accepted internationally. First Nations need more than just constitutional recognition. I believe they should be given constitutional means to establish separate political communities. I would like to see the United Sovereign Nations/States of Australia. IMAGINE THAT.

An Italian news media website was one of the few places to pick up the story of the Murrawarri Republic, an aboriginal nation who have declared their independence from Australia. You can read the full article here. Where is this in Australian media, where is this level of analysis? One mention on SBS’s website I believe, and that’s it. This should be talked about, not fucking ignored. This is the kind of action required if Australia is going to be shaken out of its white- privilege complacency. We need to collectively look at the state of humanity on the landmass we live on and asses it honestly and truthfully, and make some sorely needed changes that go far, far beyond simply acknowledging that this land mass was not actually Terra-nullius before Europeans raped the ground with their flags and digging machines.

For example: 30% of Australia’s prison population is made up of Aboriginal people, though Aboriginal people make up only 3% of the nation’s general population. The juvenile incarceration rate: 48% Aboriginal. These numbers are fucking insane, are unmatched with any nation in the OECD, and are revolting, brutal and UNNECESSARY. It a complex issue, but one of the reasons First Nations incarceration rates are through the fucking roof is because traditional laws are not respected. Lemme explain with an anecdotal story.

A good friend of mine comes from Darwin, grew up with a lot of blackfellas, he has a better understanding of the culture than most white folks I know. He was telling me about a tribal feud going in central Australia at the moment. It goes something like this: someone in the area was killed by someone else. The traditional punishment for such a thing is that the killer has a spear thrown at his/her legs by a member of the slain’s tribe, justice is served, life continues. Instead of this happening, the perpetrator was sent to prison.

As a result, the issue was not resolved within the community- justice, in their eyes, according to traditional laws, had not been served. Tensions grew between family groups, more violence occurred, more arrests were made, anguish within the community perpetuates as colonial law rips in to their lives and puts their people behind bars, rendering them unable to contribute, to teach and be with their children, their community’s children. Prisons didn’t exist in Australia before it became a prison island for England. A spear in the fucking leg seems far more humane than tearing passionate young people away from their land and their communities and letting them become rotten in an economically and socially wasteful system.

How much longer are the cultural needs of First Nations going to be overlooked like this, when it obviously causes so many problems? Where is the cultural safety, and why is there so much opposition for more cultural inclusion and education in the rest of Australia about this traditional way of life, the world’s oldest living culture- a sophisticated, sustainable culture that cares for people, nature and balance over greed, profit and material possessions? We are all suffering because of mass ignorance, denial and inexplicable fear. I am fucking sick of it.

Anyway. So now you know the other side.