The Uluru Statement from the Heart invites all Australians to join with the First Nations of this continent in a journey to Voice, Treaty and Truth. Initiatives of Change (IofC) Australia is responding through a Trustbuilding Project that will work in partnership with First Nations leaders and advisors through education forums, workshops, and local ‘truth telling and truth hearing’ initiatives.
Acknowledging both past and present
Announcing the project, IofCA Executive Officer Margaret Hepworth said the activities will seek to address the wrongs of the past and the incomplete history of Australia. ‘At the same time, the project aims to promote greater understanding of current inequities and injustice,’ she said.
The legacy of dispossession and harmful past policies, such as the removal of Indigenous children from their families, have contributed to Indigenous people being at a disadvantage in many areas. Indigenous Australians have the highest rate of incarceration in the world, and are imprisoned at a far higher rate than the Australian population at large. Despite efforts, large gaps still remain between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in child mortality, life expectancy, school attendance, and educational achievement. In 2018 the Indigenous child mortality rate was twice that of non-Indigenous children. Life expectancy of Indigenous Australians is seven to eight years less than for the non-Indigenous population. One in four Indigenous children in Years 5, 7 and 9 remain below the national minimum standards in reading.
‘We all come from a sacred place, the beginning, and we can all journey back as one people and be the authors of a new story for this country.’
- Archie Roach, Bundjalung-Gunditjmara singer/song-writer
‘A fair and truthful relationship’
At a meeting convened by then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott in June 2015 to consider changes to the Constitution, 40 First Nations leaders called for opportunity to provide input. This resulted in the organization of 13 regional dialogues among First Nations representatives, culminating in the 2017 constitutional convention. The conference of more than 200 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander delegates issued the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
The Uluru Statement calls for establishing a ‘First Nations Voice’ to Parliament, enshrined in the Constitution of Australia, and a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement making between governments and First Nations. ‘Makarrata’ is a Yolngu word that means coming together after a struggle, facing the facts of wrongs done, and living again in peace.
The Statement urges ‘a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination.’ The new IofCA program seeks to support that agenda.
The Trustbuilding Project
‘The first phase of the project is about engaging non-Indigenous Australians in building relationships with First Nations people and communities,’ said Mike Brown, part of the IofCA team that crafted the project proposal.
‘The activities will include national education forums about Indigenous issues. Non-Indigenous people who wish to engage with these issues will then be encouraged to research, build relationships and organize local activities wherever they are. These could include talks, forums, even neighbourhood walks to significant sites—whatever people decide is relevant in their locality. It’s about creating a buzz and bringing in people who may not have engaged with these issues before, but who are curious and want to understand,’ he said. This initial phase will take place through mobilizing IofCA’s network and partners to initiate and participate in a whole range of actions for truth telling and truth hearing.
The second phase, he explained, will be a small number of activities to be co-designed with traditional owners in two to three specific localities, where there is both interest and commitment to work in trust together. A Partnership Steering Group of First Nations Elders will help advise and guide this work.
IofC Australia’s trustbuilding project is one of several initiatives that are taking place around the world, funded in part by a US-based foundation, the Fetzer Institute. The global program began in September 2019 with three trustbuilding teams forming in Canada, France, and Kenya. Australia is one of four teams to join the program in 2021.
IofC Australia has received core funding for its work for two years and will need to raise further funding in its first year to support activities around the country.
In a message to the IofCA community on 26 January, IofC Australia’s Executive Officer Margaret Hepworth noted that it is up to each and every Australian to make up their own minds what steps to take for an inclusive society that fully acknowledges First Nations. ‘We are not telling anyone what to think: we are inviting you to think,’ she wrote. ‘To open to understanding, healing and reconciliation. Voice, Treaty, Truth.’
- A formal launch of the Australian project will take place on 19 March with a visit from Thomas Mayor, a Torres Strait Islander man who is a signatory to the Uluru Statement from the Heart. The project will continue to unfold with First Nations advisors guiding the way forward.
- To hear about opportunities to take part and to promote truth telling and truth hearing in your state or local area, please sign up to our mailing list here.
Lake Tyrell in Victoria has the oldest-known evidence of human habitation in the state. The Boorong people were astronomers who named Bunya the Possum, Neilloan the Mallee Fowl, and the giant Emu Tchingal in the night sky. Europeans, much later, brought sheep and wheat to the Mallee. One of them, William Stanbridge, recorded Aboriginal traditional knowledge and published an 1857 essay, ‘On the Astronomy and Mythology of the Aborigines of Australia.’ Photo: Rowan Tan