Long-term activist and Menang woman Megan Krakouer has organised recent Invasion Day marches, First Nations Deaths in Custody Committees and exposed the cruel treatment of children at the Banksia Hill Juvenile Detention Centre. She was recently named City of Perth Community Citizen of the Year and is director of the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project. She first opposed the Voice, but has now decided to support it.
After rejecting the Voice, you’ve now decided to support a Yes vote. What convinced you it could play a positive role?
The Voice is advisory and its composition will be decided at the discretion of the incumbent government. It should be more, but that’s not what’s on offer.
It is not for me to stand in the way of a coordinated amplification of Voice on issues vital to our most vulnerable and marginalised people. I argued for more; we are not going to get more, so now we take what we can get.
It is a step in the right direction in that it mandates a body that can make representations to executive government.
The suicides of my people, as exposed by suicide and poverty researcher Gerry Georgatos, is the highest rate in the world. The one in 16 deaths from suicide among First Nations was the critical tipping point for me. The voices of the dead, particularly children, call out to me, in my sleep and waking life.
You have said the Voice was “not the best of what there should be. In fact, it’s the least of what there should be.” What should the federal government be doing to address the legacy of dispossession right now?
I agree with Indigenous Affairs Minister Linda Burney that Australians will not vote for more in a referendum than what’s on offer. So we must take what’s on offer and build from there.
Stepping stones have been our lot for longer than I’ve been alive and we are obliged to keep on going, as those before us did. I am not the government and even if I was part of it, it is beyond anyone to get our community to roar in the ways I’d like. So what can be agreed on must be taken without delay.
Of course I want true land rights for areas of this continent which are mostly populated by First Peoples, such as Yolgnu, Anangu and Martu countries.
Of course I want hundreds of billions of dollars spent on the dispossessed and marginalised each year to turn around their lives.
I struggle to get a national suicide prevention service funded so I know the near-impossible task of getting this nation to leap to the outcomes that can take us to parity, equality and true self-determination.
We are obliged to take the small steps. Sometimes we can speed up the small steps: that is a realistic goal.
Do you think the Voice can also be a stepping stone towards truth telling, Treaty and more fundamental change?
The Yunupingus believe this and the Mabos believe this, so who am I to question otherwise? The Voice can bring on truth-telling and then various forms of treaty propositions.
I’d be surprised if they’re not among the first batch of propositions to government. With truth telling, this will come to pass eventually; with curricula at all levels of education also going this way.
We don’t yet know if the Voice will be appointed, elected or some combination of both. Some First Nations critics are concerned it will be dominated by conservative elements. What do you think?
Everything is dominated by power struggles: there is no guarantee the Voice will be devoid of this. Furthermore, no people on this Earth are homogenous, not First Nations peoples, nor the rest of the population. We can only try to get some of the right people, as we see them, at the table.
The composition of the Voice will, in effect, be determined by the federal government of the day. They may change it, by amending legislation, reflecting their ideology. But I’d be surprised if the election of Voice representatives is not by First Peoples alone.
While many progressives believe that the Voice falls way short of the changes we need, they’re also worried a No vote will embolden the racist right-wing. Is this justified?
Racists and right-wingers are always emboldened. This is not just a fear, it is a constant reality: we live it every day. In the end, the Voice will at least focus attention on our horrific poverty disparities, on the suicidality among our people and on turning downtrodden lives around.
The Yes campaign emphasises the advisory nature of Voice and that it won’t necessarily lead to anything as significant as changing Australia Day, let alone Treaty. It also insists it is the only opportunity in a generation to make change. What do you think the Yes campaign messaging should be?
They are trying to get a referendum across the line: it’s a tough ask when bipartisanship is missing, which wasn’t missing with the 1967 referendum. The best messaging is captured in the article Voice Referendum can achieve even more success than in 1967 by social justice campaigner Gerry Georgatos.
The growing numbers of non-Indigenous young people at the Invasion Day rallies show a generation believes it both wrong and absurd to deny that modern Australia was founded on violent dispossession. What would you like to see these people do so that they can move beyond moral outrage, or guilt, and help change things on the ground?
I have chaired Invasion Day rallies with more than 10,000 supporters. What I say is that truth-telling is here already, with more and more people, young and old, openly recognising the violence and generational atrocities since the invasions.
Truth-telling is also the increasing reality in academic and media coverage. Eventually, everyone will be drawn to its accepted truths and we will go forward on this basis.
I am encouraged by some of the great constitutional lawyers. Anne Twomey and George Williams believe the prospect of constitutional inclusion will allow for the High Court to hear our First Peoples. This is a good thing.
Campaigns for justice will have to continue, regardless of the referendum outcome. What are the most important issues for you?
The suicidality of our children, our people, is beyond words. The incarceration rate of my people, the world’s highest, must end. The removal of our children at higher rates than in the first waves of the cruel stolen generations, the highest rate in the world, must end.
These are the most important issues, and these are where I put all my energy through the modest National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project, which I now lead.