Let Aboriginal people manage their own affairs

Issue 

The open letter below was released by the Aboriginal Tent Embassies in Canberra and Brisbane of February 8.

***

We are disappointed and outraged at the racist message conveyed in the Australian article "Rivers of Grog" on February 6. Those of us gathered at the Aboriginal tent embassy in Canberra, in preparation for the protest against legislative changes, completely reject the stereotypes being used as wedge politics by the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. 

The prime minister should know better than to make cheap political attacks on the world’s oldest culture. Our rivers are sacred to our people. “Rivers of Grog” is a derogatory term that maligns our sacred rivers. 

Gamilaraay elder, Uncle Paul Spearim, and Brisbane Aboriginal sovereign embassy youth representative, Boe Spearim, have expressed their concerns that Aboriginal people in Queensland and the Northern Territory will now suffer the consequences of increased hostility and suspicion about alcohol consumption.

The truth is 85% of all Aboriginal people choose not to drink alcohol, whereas it is the reverse in the non-Aboriginal population.

What is even more insulting is that the largest purchaser of alcohol in the Australian Capital Territory is Australia's parliament, where these ill-considered comments were made last Wednesday.

Instead of criticising the move towards self-determination, which the elimination of the barred drinkers list represents, Gillard is showing her true colours by resorting to paternalistic and authoritarian measures. 

Why has she closed the rehabilitation centres and cut health funds for drug and alcohol services in Moree and many other communities?

At the same time as cutting services, the government is building prisons that profit from the pain and misery of the criminalisation of our human suffering. This strategy ensures that jails remain full of Aboriginal people who are incarcerated at a rate far higher than any other group in the world.

TV news headlines are already showing images of alcohol affected people and violence to report the “Close the Gap” talks, which in our view is actually widening the gap between black and white Australia as the misunderstanding and stereotypes of wedge politics are designed to do.

Instead of punitive measures being applied where help is needed — whether amongst the minority of blacks or the majority of whites who consume alcohol — perhaps a sincere commitment to the wellbeing of the population could be reported in the next Close the Gap report.

We remain as committed to the wellbeing of our people now as when the embassy was founded 41 years ago. A sovereign treaty is the last step to be taken in the long road towards the modern Australian state's identity.

Such a step is long overdue, and our message to Gillard is that it is time to end tokenism and wedge politics; it is time to dismantle the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples and for the Aboriginal members to resign with some measure of cultural dignity and cultural respect.

We have come of age, and our politics have come of age. Aboriginal people can manage our own affairs, on our own terms. We are ready to treaty … can you Close that Gap Julia?

Signed:
Paul Spearim
Graham Merritt
Anthony Kumbah Coombes
Lara Pullin
Bo Spearim

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