By Kristian Whittaker
and Sue Bolton
CANBERRA — Last month, Aborigines briefly occupied the old Parliament House and issued a Declaration of Aboriginal Sovereignty "invoking our claim to all the lands of the territories of our ancestors".
Police evicted the protesters and charged four with trespass. However, the Aborigines have maintained an embassy on the lawn outside the building.
Billie Craigie, Kevin Gilbert and Jim Cole spoke to Green Left about the action.
"We're demanding that the Australian government recognise Aboriginal sovereignty and recognise that we have the right to determine our own future", Craigie said.
"Aboriginal people from all around the country have gathered here at the protest so that we can keep up the embassy indefinitely. We've received a large number of messages of support from various Aboriginal land councils and from other organisations."
The occupation of the old Parliament House took place on the 20th anniversary of the original Aboriginal embassy.
"Next year is the United Nations' International Year of Indigenous Peoples", Craigie said. "For the past 10 years the UN has been drafting an International Declaration of Indigenous Peoples' Rights, similar to the UN Declaration of Human Rights. One would think that colonising peoples would use this opportunity to allow indigenous peoples to determine our own futures and own laws.
"For 204 years we've had colonising governments dictating to us. So now we're asking people from all the Aboriginal nations across the country to come and support us, and we're asking for the support of all white people who agree with our aims."
The case of the four arrested protesters is being used as a test case, Craigie explained. "We'll take the case from the District Court to the ACT Supreme Court and then on to the High Court. Once we've exhausted the Australian courts, we'll go to the International Court of Justice. We don't believe we can get a fair and impartial decision in Australia."
"We're questioning the rights of the courts because of the illegal occupation of our land by force", Jim Cole added. "No treaties were ever signed. We never surrendered, and we've never been defeated. As far as we're concerned the invasion is still going on.
"In NSW alone, over 8600 Aboriginal children were taken from their families, from our communities, with most ending up as farm Every Koori in Australia would know or be related to people who were taken. Nowadays the white authorities are still doing it, but 'legally', through the welfare system."
Kevin Gilbert pointed out: "At no time since the invasion did the sovereign owners of this land cede sovereignty to others. If people wish to they can simply evaluate the physical and social condition of the Aboriginal people today. You only have to look at the statistics regarding our people over the last 204 years, using a little common sense.
"Despite Australia being a signatory to the Covenant of Human Rights, we are still denied access to clean drinking water, to medication, to shelter. We want people to call upon the white government to recognise Aboriginal sovereignty and to deal with us according to our rightful status."
Craigie added that the unwillingness of the system to recognise Aboriginal rights was reflected in the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody. "It's clear that there is institutional violence by prison officers. There's inherent racism in the legal system, right through from local magistrates to the High Court. We need the power to stop police picking up our people on bullshit charges.
"The big problem was the terms of reference, which were too narrow. The federal government wouldn't broaden them because the state governments wouldn't agree. The commission ended up as a $40 million whitewash. It was a con job on black people and also on white taxpayers.
"In 1962 the people voted to give power to the federal government to administer Aboriginal affairs. And now the former concentration camp owners, the states, are being handed back this power. Look at the David Gundy case. The warrant was illegal for a start. The magistrate who issued the warrant and the police should have been charged. Gundy's wife and child can't even get compensation."
Donations to the Aboriginal Embassy can be sent payable to the National Aboriginal Government, Commonwealth Bank, Account No. 291910029200. Messages of support can be sent to the Aboriginal Embassy, Parkes ACT 2600.