As Nelson Mandela said- reconciliation means working together to correct the legacy of past injustice. Within the mental health spectrum our indigenous population experiences much higher rates of suicide, substance abuse and anxiety and PTSD due to the stolen generation and loss of land. It has only been recently that the government and others have realised the impact of the British invasion that still scars our land and culture today.
The polls will tell you this: most Australians are offended by any suggestion that they should feel guilty about any aspects of the country’s past. They fervently reject any responsibility for it. Many will reject any notion that some of the legacies of the past live in the present and need to be dealt with. They will say that Aborigines must stop being victims and ‘should get over it, it’s all in the past, we had nothing to do with it, we are not guilty, help yourselves’. Others will say ‘we may have had not physically done anything but we as Australians have a responsibility to do all we can as the plight of Aboriginal Australia affects us all deeply too’, and today we stand here as the others who believe in equality and justice.
Reconciliation is seen as more of an act of politics lately. Personally, I see reconciliation as common sense. We are taught from a young age that when we do wrong, we apologise, we learn from it and know not to do the same. But when it comes to our history it seems that we tend to deny the wrongdoing of the past. Reconciliation is the elephant in the room that we are finally addressing correctly.
In 1993, the International Year of the World's Indigenous People we saw some major changes within the government in favour of reconciliation from Native title rights, inquiries and actions plans for the stolen generation and the infamous Redfern speech by PM Paul Keating. His views caused controversy within the non-indigenous population but his words still ring true today.
He described reconciliation as a fundamental test of our social goals and our national will: our ability to say to ourselves and the rest of the world that Australia is a first rate social democracy, that we are what we should be - truly the land of the fair go and the better chance. How well we recognise the fact that, complex as our contemporary identity is, it cannot be separated from Aboriginal Australia. With some noble exceptions, we failed to make the most basic human response and enter into their hearts and minds. We failed to ask - how would I feel if this were done to me? As a consequence, we failed to see that what we were doing degraded all of us.
When we look globally we see nations such as Germany or Japan accept their past and make inclusive plans to insure things like the holocaust or nuclear war never happen again. We see plans that have involved those impacted and plans that stick and create change.
Down the years within Australia, there has been no shortage of guilt, but it has not produced the responses we need. Guilt is not a very constructive emotion. In the words of PK - I think what we need to do is open our hearts a bit. All of us. And this is still true today.
Reconciliation is about equality, and compassion. When we create plans we have to give meaning to "justice" and "equity" – and we will only give them meaning when we commit ourselves to achieving concrete results.
There is nothing to fear or to lose in the recognition of historical truth, or the extension of social justice, or the deepening of Australian social democracy to include indigenous Australians. There is everything to gain. Even the unhappy past speaks for this. Where Aboriginal Australians have been included in the life of Australia they have made remarkable contributions.
All over Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are taking charge of their own
lives. And assistance with the problems which chronically beset them is at last being made available in ways developed by the communities themselves. An example of this is the Yarn Safe initiative targeting ill-mental health for indigenous groups as indigenous Australians have much higher rat6es of ill-mental health.
If these things offer hope, so does the fact that this generation of Australians is better informed about Aboriginal culture and achievement, and about the injustice that has been done, than any generation before. Throughout school I learnt about Australia’s history – history that included the British takeover and the implications on Aboriginal Australia, I learnt of the indigenous heroes and heroines who protected their country. I was surrounded by Indigenous culture I learnt of customs, dances, signing and traditional medicine.
I only discovered I was Aboriginal two years ago but all through primary school I wished I had been Aboriginal and pestered my Aboriginal friend to let me be her partner so I could be involved in koori
choir and dance. I had always had a connection to the culture so this discovery was welcomed with both arms, however it was odd. I was suddenly given this new deadly family, a mob. I come from a very small family but I found myself surrounded by so many new aunts and uncles. I still have a lot to learn about my heritage but it is something I am loving. It was difficult and still difficult to explain to old friends and even new people I meet that I am Aboriginal due to my white skin, but being aboriginal isn’t about the colour of your skin it is the connection to country and customs.
I am extremely proud of my heritage and the fact I can say that I live in a country where the culture is one of the oldest in the world. I see reconciliation as the ending of casual racism and division between groups within Australia, an amalgamation of Indigenous Australia and contemporary Australia, because after all Australia the land of fair go was built around Indigenous values. I see reconciliation as law and policy changes which lift up indigenous communities opposed to dragging them down, ones which involve non-indigenous and indigenous people working together for change. I see reconciliation as education, education throughout schools not just of history but of culture, traditions and language and within the media.
I see reconciliation as equality and acceptance.