Fourteen years after the Northern Territory Intervention began – a policy condemned as racist by many here and abroad – First Nations communities are still fighting to have it overturned.
The NT Intervention was started by the John Howard Coalition government and extended under Labor.
Alfred Coolwell read out the following message from NT Aboriginal elder Yingiya Mark Guyula at a gathering organised by Stop The Intervention Collective Sydney (STICS) at Sydney Town Hall on June 19.
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In 2007, the Intervention brought an attack against Aboriginal people and culture. It was like a war – with the army deployed.
It was sudden and swift, and all the community leaders and elders were disempowered and painted as dysfunctional abusers.
The lack of acknowledgement of our leaders and our elders and the take-over of our communities has seen the biggest threat to our people and culture.
Following the advent of the Intervention, we felt the full force of oppression as the Federal and NT governments imposed a number of new strategies, including: blanket welfare quarantining; the demand for leases of our land in exchange for housing; pushing us off our homelands by moving all services and housing to towns; the demise of local village council authorities; forcing our children into English-only schools; the rejection of Aboriginal Customary laws in court sentencing; increased removal of our children; increased sending of our young adults to juvenile jails; the slander of our culture and the assumption that balanda [white man] culture was superior.
Our elders and leaders have been disempowered and stripped of their rightful authority.
We want our authority returned to our leaders and elders.
We want our culture, our law, the rightful law of our land recognised and upheld.
We Yolngu are not lawless. Yolngu possess law and authority and with this law and authority we will engage in Treaty.
Makarrata is the Yolngu way to solve conflict between nations and clans. It does not matter if one nation is small and one is big; it is about justice.
Through Makarrata an agreement can be mediated that rights the wrong and creates the path for genuine Treaty.
Treaties must come from the country, the law, and the people of the land.
We do not want a Treaty that is imposed on us; we want Treaties that acknowledge our sovereignty and recognise our law.
This is our magayawmirr dhukarrlil – our path to freedom.
I want to thank everyone who continues to fight against the NT Intervention, who continues to stand with us and fight for our future – the future of our people and our culture.
Our spirits are with you and we know your spirits are with us, as we dance and sing the songlines at the funeral of my elder over this weekend – continuing our law and culture on country.