There is a world of difference for First Peoples between being mentioned in the Australian Constitution and being recognised as First Peoples.
With the release of the Interim Report of the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Peoples (July 2014) we are reminded just how difficult it will be for First Peoples to ever gain real recognition as First Peoples in their own country.
Even the word ‘recognise’ has become somewhat co-opted and subject to usage which precludes recognition of unextinguished and co-existing sovereignty and the need for some form of treaty (0r treaties) between the Settler State and First Peoples.
One important task which requires serious attention is for the advocates of Constitutional recognition to resolve (to some degree, at least) the split amongst indigenous people over the relationships between these two issues (that is, Constitutional recognition on the one hand and the issues of sovereignty and treaties on the other).
It will be difficult for non-indigenous people, seeking to support the rights of First Peoples, to do so while First Peoples themselves remain polarised over the pros and cons of Constitutional recognition. This leaves an ideal space for the masters of wedge politics to drive their stake into the heart of official recognition of this country’s First Peoples.
At first glance the Interim Report appears to be concerned more with non-indigenous legal and constitutional issues than with the very real concerns of those First Peoples who regard Constitutional recognition as being another means by which their rights will be negated by an ongoing Anglo-Australian occupation of their country. This key issue is mentioned, in passing, in Paragraph 3.9 on page 33 of the Interim Report.
The Interim Report appears to be a product of one side of the brain – the Westernised intellectual side which works within forms of conceptual prison-houses – and is not balanced by voices from another and equally important part of Being – one which can creatively envisage a future in which two Peoples can co-exist as cultural partners.
There is a sense in the Interim Report of it being a ‘backward’ looking exercise which addresses matters such as ‘racial discrimination’ but not the suite of 21st century issues as found in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. But then again, the 1901 Constitution itself is long overdue for being brought into the real world of the 21st Century.
It may well be that the Constitutional recognition of First Peoples which the Anglo-Australian state requires to get its own house in order (vis-a-vis the rest of the colonised world) needs to be a companion piece to a second document – such as a treaty – which provides for such things as the protection of First Peoples ‘treasures’ (culture, language, Ways of Being, country …) rather than trying to have the Constitution reform process carry all the heavy lifting.
The Joint Committee is required to produce its final report by 30 June 2015 and (Para 3.15) has welcomed more submissions as part of its consultation process.
The Interim Report is relatively short and can be found at http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Constitutional_Recognition_of_Aboriginal_and_Torres_Strait_Islander_Peoples/Interim_Report/index