The 'Uluru bark petition', when culture backfires

Pastor Walker presents the "Uluru bark petition" to Senator Abetz.

On August 13, anti-marriage equality campaigner and Liberal government minister Senator Eric Abetz was presented with a petition against marriage equality — the "Uluru bark petition" — by Black pastor Peter Walker, who claimed to speak on behalf of "Aboriginal Australia".

The petition was supposedly issued on behalf of the following Aboriginal nations: Argan, Arrernte, Bidjara, Biripi, Bundjalung, Bunuba, Dainggatti, Erub, Gidja, Githabul, Gooniyandi, Gumbainggir, Juggera, Jaru, Juru, Kabi-Kab-Waka-Waka, Kamiliaroi, Karajarri, Kaylagal, Koara, Kooma, Luritja, Mamu, Mangala, Mantijintjarra, Mara, Meriam Mir, Munjunjarli, Ngaanyatjarra, Noongar, Nyawaygi, Nyigina, Pitjantjatjarra, Wadi-Wadi, Wagilak, Walawurru, Walmatjarri, Wangkumarra, Wiradjuri, Wongatha, Wooroora, Wuthathi, Yakuntjatjarra, Yidingi-Mbabaram, Yidingi-Mullen-Barra and Balardung.

In an August 16 article in New Matilda, Chris Graham points out that this list is "tiny fraction of the actual number of surviving Aboriginal nations in Australia (more than 200)" and that the list had been drawn up without any consultation process involving the named nations.

Pastor Walker has a history of homophobic opposition to marriage equality. “I'm convinced that homosexuals [re]produce themselves by molesting children,” he told an August 2012 anti-marriage equality rally in Canberra.

During an August 19 CAAMA Radio discussion about petition with Warren Williams, Justin Fenwick and Star Lady, I pointed out that Pastor Walker's comments reopened a wound collectively felt by Black people, especially Central Desert men and their communities: during the implementation of the Northern Territory Intervention the racist slander implying all Black men are paedophiles was used as an effective instrument by the government and media to impose apartheid policies on the NT’s Aboriginal communities.

Williams declared his objection to the unauthorised use of the name of an iconic sacred Aboriginal site — Uluru — in the petition.

In a scathing response, Arrernte woman Celeste Liddle disputes the petition's claim to represent the views of Aboriginal nations and its claim that Aboriginal culture endorses existing colonial laws that discriminate against LGBTIQ people.

“I … do not align with the despicable views of Pastor Walker and call on him to retract his stated views that 'This is a cultural initiative, it is not a Christian initiative' as this clearly is not the case,” Liddle said.

Without a mandate from the communities listed in the petition Pastor Walker has used his own interpretation of cultural tradition to promote a worldview that openly discriminates against the rights of his own people. The ‘Uluru bark petition’ pits Aboriginal people against one another causing divisions that need not exist. Pastor Walker’s position belies the true nature of the cultural diversity that exists in Aboriginal & TSI communities in which Sistergirls and Brotherboys enjoy unique cultural and societal roles.

It is for these reasons, I stand with Celeste Liddle in questioning the cultural legitimacy of ‘Uluru bar petition’ and I call on Pastor Walker to retract his statement and apologize not just to the queer Blacks he has harmed, but also to their families, communities and all Aboriginal people.

Pastor Walker must be held to account for misrepresenting the views of Aboriginal communities. His vile claims about homosexuality have the potential to impact on the personal health, wellbeing and safety of Black queers, many of whom are already experiencing the effects of dispossession and discrimination.

It is vital we begin a conversation about the need for the creation or 'Safe Spaces' for LGBTIQ Blacks within the spaces we move and operate. Whether a Sovereign Fire, a government organization or a grass roots Black community space, Black LGBTIQ people deserve to feel safe and to know our right to express our gender and sexual identities will be respected. Within a Black cultural context Black queers deserve to know the cultural positions we occupy in our communities will not be challenged due to our gender or sexual orientation and/or identities.

I propose it is time for the creation of a policy or a statement that Aboriginal communities and organizations can sign up to ensure the rights of LGBTIQ Blacks are respected and observed so that dangerous men like Pastor Walker do not have the opportunity to speak for us.

[Adam Sharah is an anti-nuke, peace and social justice activist who campaigns with Aboriginal communities, Australian Nuclear Free Alliance and Friends of Earth. He is former administrator of Gay Marriage Rights in Australia and has campaigned for QLD Equal Love Marriage Equality Campaign. He is currently studying a Bachelor of Aboriginal & TSI Advocacy at Charles Darwin University.
He supports Celeste Liddle’s petition "Reject the ‘Uluru bark petition’" and Sam Cook's "The Blak Pride Glitter Petition - supporting marriage equity of all".]

Like the article? Subscribe to Green Left now! You can also like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

If you like our work, become a supporter

Green Left is a vital social-change project and aims to make all content available online, without paywalls. With no corporate sponsors or advertising, we rely on support and donations from readers like you.

For just $5 per month get the Green Left digital edition in your inbox each week. For $10 per month get the above and the print edition delivered to your door. You can also add a donation to your support by choosing the solidarity option of $20 per month.

Freecall now on 1800 634 206 or follow the support link below to make a secure supporter payment or donation online.