Tas. Aboriginal leader fights for her people

Nala Mansell-McKenna.

Nala Mansell-McKenna is a well-known Aboriginal political activist in Tasmania, who was recently elected state secretary of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre (TAC).

“We like to call the secretary the role that’s our main political spokesperson, but when you work in the same building as Michael Mansell you are usually the second main political spokesperson,” she laughed, referring to the way that Michael (her father) is frequently contacted for comment on political issues.

Mansell-McKenna is not one to be overshadowed, however. She is a confident young woman and experienced activist who takes every opportunity to speak up for her community, whether at a rally with a megaphone, in a meeting with a politician or addressing the United Nations.

Mansell-McKenna’s biggest jobs as secretary will likely be campaigning for improved laws to protect Aboriginal heritage, the creation of an independent body to assess Aboriginal heritage values, securing resources to care for Aboriginal heritage, and having more land handed back to Aboriginal community control.

These topics were all put on the agenda by a delegation that met with Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings three weeks ago.

She also has some unfinished business from her time as secretary of the TAC three years ago.

She had negotiated with the state government for a dual-naming policy for landmarks in Tasmania, which is still on the agenda.

During her last stint as secretary, the Tasmanian government also decided to fly the Aboriginal flag at parliament.

The government had begun discussions with the Aboriginal community about whether this was desirable or not. Mansell-McKenna was part way through the community consultations about the issue when the government independently decided to put the flag up anyway.

Mansell-McKenna said: “The flag is something that people really identify with and use to express ourselves.

“So for the government to take that away from us and to have full control and power over where it belongs, it’s a kind of slap in the face when they are destroying the heritage of your ancestors and the land that’s so important to the community today.”

Earlier this year, she was selected to take part in an Indigenous Fellowship with the UN in Geneva.

She told GLW that during the campaign to protect the 40,000-year-old Aboriginal site, kutalayna, she read about the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which says that governments should protect Aboriginal culture and land that has archaeological value.

She said: “It made me really want to learn more about the Declaration.” She thought “maybe this international arena might be able to help us” given “the governments in [our] own country are turning their backs on [us], and don’t even need to try to hide the fact that they don’t care about Aboriginal heritage or values”.

She is now reporting back to the Aboriginal community about UN mechanisms such as the Universal Periodic Review where each country has its human rights record reviewed once every four years.

Mansell-McKenna recommends Aboriginal people engage more with the process to call Australia to account.

[Nala Mansell-McKenna is a guest speaker at the World at a Crossroads — Climate Change Social Change conference in Melbourne from September 30 to October 3. For details visit www.climatechangesocialchange2011.wordpress.com .]


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