Yingiya Mark Guyula, a spokesperson for the Yolngu Nations Assembly, will stand as an independent candidate for the seat of Nhulunbuy in the Northern Territory elections in August.
He kicked off a national Treaty awareness and fundraising speaking tour with a meeting in Darwin on March 7, before speaking in Adelaide, Geelong, Melbourne and Sydney. He spoke to Green Left Weekly's Peter Robson in Darwin and Zebedee Parkes in Sydney.
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Can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I'm a man of the Yolŋu people group, Djambarrpuyŋu nation and the Liya-dhalinymirr tribe in East Arnhem Land.
I've been teaching about language and culture for a long time. I taught from home, then came over to Darwin and taught part time at Charles Darwin University in Yolngu studies. Then, in 1998, I got a lecturing position. All the way along, my vision was to create some sort of connection or recognition between Yolngu and Balanda (non-Aboriginal people) and the government.
At that time, the federal and NT governments were changing the laws about Indigenous issues. [These laws] weren't for us. It was getting harder and harder. So through my teaching, I started to put more focus on law and order.
I have the title of Djirrikaymirr (judge) among my people. This makes me an authority on the Yolngu traditional system of law, called Maḏayin. My tribe is one of a number of groups responsible for oversight of the indigenous central governance institution of Ngarra (a sort of parliament). This is where my passion lies. Maḏayin law and the Ngarra institution has maintained peace, justice and harmony in Arnhem Land for millennia.
How did you get involved in politics?
When the NT Emergency Response (NTER) [NT intervention] came through, it really hurt.
It was a nightmare that took power away from the homeland communities and disempowered our elders. They came in with armed forces, separated us from our children, and took away resources and work — like CDEP [Community Development Employment Programs] — and put people on the dole. Then people had to start working for the dole.
We couldn't believe what was happening to us. The powers that we use to raise and discipline our children, run our affairs and think for ourselves were just taken away from us. We tried very hard to take the NTER legislation away, so we could be left alone and speak for ourselves. But it just got harder and harder.
We've been voting for people but our voices just haven't been heard. We voted for people to go and represent our voices in the parliament, to say the intervention is a bad thing, a shame job. It's embarrassing. It doesn't make us human beings. It's taken away our community, our leadership.
And then another government [Labor] came in, promising to remove the NTER, but they just changed it to Stronger Futures, which wasn't any better. Then we were worse off.
People started seeing more resources removed from homeland centres and put into major communities. Now we have truancy officers and large police numbers patrolling and being a nightmare to people.
We kept calling out “This must stop!” We thought the government must listen, but instead the Intervention and Stronger Futures just kept coming.
People were starved out of the homelands, infrastructure was cut, health and education centres were shut down, which brought people into town. Now everyone is living in major communities, and everyone is very sick, very worried.
We wanted our senior elders to be able to take children and families back onto country, to live on the land, freely; to serve one another, to be proud of our (Yolngu) nation. Instead we were stuck in major communities.
What made you want to run as an independent for parliament?
We formed Yolngu Nations Assembly, with Djiniyini Gondarra and some elders on Elcho Island, to fight the intervention. In 2012, I started talking as a spokesperson. We fought really hard to remove Stronger Futures because it is just destroying our lives. Our children were better off living on the homelands with their families. When they were brought into towns and major communities, they just went wild.
Now, I've decided, through Yolngu Nations Assembly, to stand as an independent for the seat of Nhulunbuy because we're not being heard here. I want to get up as high as I can to make noises and let our voices be heard. It's not something I want to do, it's something someone has to do.
I want to walk in there and gain the power back for my elders. We want our freedom, the power for the people. I am standing to fight for a treaty, for my people and for all Australian people. The government must recognise and give back our powers.
Have you had much support for your campaign?
I have found a lot of support in standing for and calling for a treaty for Arnhem Land and the Indigenous people, for a recognition of our Maḏayin system of law and recognition of our sovereignty that was taken away.
The treaty call is so that we can have self-determination, so that we can restore what was taken away by the Intervention and later through Stronger Futures.
What are the key issues of your campaign? What do you want to change?
The key issue I'm running on is that the communities in Arnhem Land have been disempowered — bilingual education has been removed from the learning centres, jobs have been cut, the unemployment benefit is now called work-for-the-dole, and we have all been squeezed into the major communities.
Our people have been starved out of the homelands, which is where our parliament and our system of Maḏayin law comes from. I want to get my people back onto land; to get education, infrastructure, roads and jobs.
Your campaign is calling for a treaty. What specifically would you like to see in a treaty?
I would like to see the recognition and understanding by this government that there is a system of law, a civilisation, which we were living by before white man law came.
We want the government to sit down with us and work with us so we can negotiate how to run this nation so that we live in equality, with no one above the other because in our systems of law work side by side.
[Yingiya Mark Guyula's campaign website is here.]