Recognise the First People

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Constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians will be a victory for all of us

One of my relatives in India owns a rubber plantation. The land stretches over several hills and it includes lakes, ponds and abundant forest resources. The land, my relative says, was passed onto him by his ancestors. Rubber was an important cash crop in Kerala, and with community farming this land flourished.

When I visit my relative during holidays in India, he tells me of the time when the indigenous people, who were driven out by his forefathers, used to leave jars of honey at their doorstep as a sign of friendship. This was probably that community’s way of seeking reconciliation.

Now the forests have disappeared and Kerala’s dispossessed tribals have been forced into servitude. They work as domestics or farm labourers on the land that was once theirs. The movement to recognise their rights is vocal and sometimes militant in India. But we know they have a long way to go for any sort of recognition.

Australia’s indigenous communities have been denied the recognition they deserve on several fronts for far too long. The campaign to Recognise is a moderate voice calling for reconciliation.

What is the relevance of the Recognise campaign now?

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have been living in this land for over 40,000 years. The story of their cultural survival, despite the ravages of modern civilization, is an important one. Many communities that call modern Australia home have a sense of solidarity with the movement for justice to Indigenous Australians. The Australian Constitution was written more than a century ago. In many ways it does not recognise an important part of national history.

In the first six decades of parliamentary democracy in Australia, the indigenous communities could not vote. Dispossessed, subjugated and pushed to the margins of society throughout modern history, the indigenous people of Australia are far from getting the justice they have fought for from the very first day of European settlement. Supporting this movement will be another step on the road to recognising the original custodians of this land.

Cr Samantha Ratnam, from Moreland city council, inaugurated the Recognise campaign in Melbourne’s Coburg last month.

There’s wide-ranging support from all sections of politics for this campaign.

There were Australians defending Australia even before Anzac Day. And, for the many migrant communities now adopting Australia as their homeland, the need to recognise this censored part of the nation’s history is crucial. We must remember the wars of occupation and resistance in this country’s history. At the heart of all these battles were ideas of rights, community, democracy and humanity. We must be wary of all attempts to valorise some wars over all the others. Not for the sake of political correctness, but for a future that frees the past from the tyranny of imperial agendas and lies.

Recognise calls for Constitutional support for aboriginal people. Many well-known Australians support the cause of recognition, including Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Even Prime Minister Abbott thinks it will be a unifying moment for Australia. He feels it will be a healing moment.

The task of giving Aboriginal history its place in Australian history is long overdue. If Australia votes a Yes, which it will, to recognise indigenous Australians in the Constitution, this will be a milestone.

Personally, I can’t wait to cast my vote in this referendum.

To me the Recognise Campaign is like the jars of honey once offered by Kerala’s tribal communities to the new landlords, as a sign of reconciliation.

I have signed up to support Recognise. Have you? You can sign up to the people’s movement for recognition at recognise.org.au.

Published in The Indian Sun (Indian Newspaper in Melbourne)

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