Every year we can use National Reconciliation Week as a moment to remember, reconnect and re-imagine.
We remember the movements and sacrifices that changed history and mark the dates for National Reconciliation Week. We reconnect with the purpose and promise of these important dates. We re-imagine our immediate future possibilities considering the iconic Australian moments that are commemorated by National Reconciliation Week.
But first, let’s address the notion that perhaps reconciliation may have had its time and is no longer important. There was a political process that was marked by a decade of reconciliation from 1991 to 2001, and it is acknowledged that language and intent have moved away from various focus areas associated with that decade of reconciliation. However, let’s remember that the intent of reconciliation was to generate an environment of relationships when there was very little at the time.
The formal decade of reconciliation ignited many cascading relationships that flourished into the current context of acknowledgement, partnership, and visibility that many of us enjoy and now take for granted. Acknowledgement of Country, reconciliation action plans, procurement processes seeking partnerships with First Nations businesses, indigenous themed rounds in sports, and First Nations designed uniforms are just some of the tangible examples of how the world we live in now owes a debt to the formal reconciliation decade.
One of the reasons we can move beyond the perceived boundaries of reconciliation is because of the foundations secured during that decade and the decades since. Reconciliation week provides us with the chance to honour that time, and eras before, that have brought about a more aware and conscious Australian community to take the next steps together. However, before we move to discuss the elements of the week, there is one final acknowledgement that is worth mentioning. That is, while there have been many gains over the past 3 decades, there have also been areas of little progress or even regression.
Some parts of First Nations’ lives have not grown and flourished in these decades. Some of our social and economic indicators have not moved forward positively. Additionally, for every Australian who has come to an appreciation of First Peoples’ lives, cultures and political aspirations, there are a few other Australians who have not. It is for these reasons Reconciliation continues to be an important call for the best of our Australian ways of life.
We Remember, We Reconnect, We Re-imagine
We remember the movements and sacrifices that changed history and mark the dates for national reconciliation week.
The bookend dates of National Reconciliation Week ought to be etched in our collective Australian memory. May 27 marks the day that 9 out of 10 Australians voted in favour of changes to the Australian constitution to remove the exclusion of First Peoples. The movement to create this historical vote was a generation in the making. It began around the time of World War II and the 150-year anniversary of the European settlement of Australia. The specific constitutional campaign was organised and delivered by Australians from various lifestyles and cultural backgrounds. It made the right appeal and right time for the Australian community in 1967. It ushered in a new era for our communities to forge new identities and explore what it means to belong together.
We have fought, wrestled, and argued. We have also partnered, agreed, and collaborated. In 1967 Australia took a step forward and we are continuing to push for more reforms. June 3 marks the High Court decision on the Mabo case. It honours the sacrifice and dedication of Eddie Mabo and lifts his legacy as a great Australian. The movement to make this High Court case possible was driven by one man who held a strong conviction of the rightness of his claim to return to the land that belonged to him. The collective efforts of several people that included First Nations and other Australians working together created a powerful tipping point in our Australian story.
The High Court decision cracked open a foundational belief at the heart of belonging in Australia. That is, it finally brought to the surface a fundamental truth known but not acknowledged – this land Always Was and Always Will Be First Peoples Land. The High Court decision changed the way we talk about being together ever since. It triggered insecurity in settlement and a necessity to negotiate ways forward. Sometimes it brought out our best, sometimes it revealed our worst. We now have opportunities to continue shaping the Nation as we discuss Voice, Treaty and Truth and all the implications of our generational reset opportunity on relationships between First Nations and other Australians.
During this week we can reconnect with the purpose and promise of both May 27 and June 3 as profound turning points in history. They represent exclamation marks in our national narrative. They are moments when Australia came to terms with who we are and how we can be together. Collectively they promote a promise of forging our future belonging with a foundation of truth and justice for the land and peoples.
National Reconciliation Week is not just a retrospective exercise, it allows us to re-imagine our immediate future possibilities. In the same manner that May 27 1967 and June 3 1992 set in motion new conversations for identity and belonging for generations, we are now in a moment of history to address our times and set up the next generations. We are currently negotiating state-based treaties, national truth-telling processes, constitutional reform, cultural governance and representation. These are exciting times to participate in future-focused conversations that build on the momentum of what has been achieved up to this point.
As we face the future and seek to build a more just and equitable Australia, we will be drawing on the lessons and the values that have been forged in our formal and informal reconciliation in Australia. National Reconciliation Week keeps this agenda front and centre.
Author, Mark Yettica-Paulson, Deep Collaboration Practice Lead CFI.