ABC: Ben Collins
“Truth telling” about Indigenous suffering and displacement through colonisation must be a key part of treaty negotiations, a prominent Western Australian Aboriginal commentator says.
Aboriginal people from around Australia met at Uluru earlier this week, to discuss recognition of Indigenous Australians in the constitution.
But after three days of talks they released the Uluru statement rejecting “simple acknowledgement” of Indigenous people in the constitution, and calling for a treaty.
Kimberley delegate to the convention, Wayne Bergmann, said there needed to be an understanding of what really happened to Australia’s Indigenous people.
“Much like in South Africa where you had the Truth Commission where [the] Indigenous history of what happened — [the] Stolen Generation, massacres, dispossession — where the truth and history can be told,” he said.
“Until we accept the past and understand that is part of our history, that’s the only basis in which we can move forward and heal as a nation.”
Mr Bergmann said many Australians may not be aware that first contact between some WA Aboriginal people and those of European descent happened as recently as 50 years ago.
While such events occurred much earlier in the eastern states, he said there was acknowledgement at the convention Aboriginal people from all over Australia had suffered over time.
But, the former Kimberley Land Council chief executive said, there were gaps in the knowledge of too many Australians.
“We’ve all suffered the same history and we’re all suffering the same challenges, there have been different types of impact on all of us but there’s one thing clear — as descendants of the first people, we need to have some reconciling of that history and a real acknowledgement of our place in society,” he said.
Treaties can lead to real outcomes: Bergmann
The Uluru Statement called for the “establishment of a first nations voice enshrined in the constitution”, and a Makarrata Commission to “supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and first nations and truth-telling about our history”.
While attending the convention as a delegate, Mr Bergmann also helped MC and chair proceedings.
He said he believed there may eventually be a series of treaties or agreements around Australia, reflecting the desires of the various language groups.
Mr Bergmann asserted the door was now open for Indigenous groups to come together and “engage with states and Commonwealth for a full and final settlement about the things that are important to them”.
This meant sovereignty, rights to protect country, and to benefit from and manage country.
“Jurisdictions all around the world, Commonwealth jurisdictions have treaties with first nations people. It’s only bringing Australia in line with the rest of the world,” he said.
“I’ve seen first hand some of those things structured in Canada, where first nations people, where they have their settlement, what they call their community is pretty much their local government — like a local government shire.
“They still receive a budget allocation for health, housing and they administer it pretty much within their town site.
“And they make the calls about how it happens.”
Mr Bergmann said a treaty body would be more effective than the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) was.
“I can remember reading some of the minutes of the first meetings of the Kimberley Land Council and the senior men and women in those minutes were calling to engage with the government on a treaty,” he said.
“It’s really nothing new in terms of the Aboriginal history of what we’ve been arguing for.
“The exact concept or the exact mould this will be cast in is the subject of this process now if the Commonwealth Government, the Opposition all move forward with it.
“I think this is something the Australian public also need to get behind, I think that will ultimately determine what the politicians decide to do in Parliament.”