Mark Yettica-Paulson, RECOGNISE Joint Campiagn Director, Published Koori Mail, 25 January 2017
THERE comes a time when the plight of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples must hit each and every Australian personally.
There is an undeniable opportunity coming for each of us to make a personal contribution to right the wrongs and deliver a fairer, just nation that doesn’t shy away from truth and history and stands for all Australians.
This opportunity is a referendum to change the Constitution – to deal with the racism in our country’s highest legal document, and to recognise our birthright as Australia’s First Peoples and the unique identity and rights that brings with it.
Things are shaping up to make 2017 a year for important change to happen. Real, lasting and substantive constitutional rights and reform is an achievement that is within our reach. Will this year be auspicious and an important historic watershed moment? Well that’s completely up to us.
Australia has shown it has the ability for hard conversations and for hard work to make changes that matter.
For starters, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum and the 25th anniversary of the Mabo High Court decision.
We know that social policy and attitudes about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, built up over the past 200 years, has had some gains but, let’s be up front – it has also left a trail of destruction and intergenerational disadvantage that we are just scratching the surface of and trying to rectify.
What keeps us all going then? We all have our own stories to tell about how to keep keeping on; the fire in the belly to fix what is wrong and to be part of making a change.
For me, it is the guidance that my parents, Elders, leaders and mentors give to move forward, to appreciate the achievements, to hold on to the inspiration and to look to the future.
We must act with resilience and respect. I am reassured by friends and supporters – whose numbers have swelled to more than 300,000 – for the campaign for constitutional recognition.
At the start of 2017, my determination is renewed because I am reminded they are signed up, they have the staying power and the principles to see this through. They are standing with us like others stood together before, in 1967.
Just as my parents remind me and our own mob show me in every conversation and in every community, it is worth the setbacks, the toil and the personal sacrifices to commit yourself to what you believe in. We stand in the light of a legacy from those who came before us.
When you look at what happened in 1967 and the foundation it laid for reform and for progress, you know the opportunity is here again to be a part of change within our lifetime.
The reforms of 1967 were not everything – no-one would argue that the job was done. Likewise, the calls to take the next step in fixing our Constitution – to get recognition in and racism out – is not everything, but it is something significant. It is an important next step to move us forward as a country.
The voices of our communities sometimes have a harshness, a desperation to see positive change come as fast as possible.
The enormity of the task can be daunting, can make us feel puny but always remember: We are powerful.
We are not alone, with hundreds of thousands at our side, and with millions to come.
Recognise is committed to having a million conversations this year, to grow support and to talk about all of the issues that go hand in hand with being black and Australian.
It needs to be said that we stand with our brothers and sisters who are committed and fighting to see other achievements such as lasting agreements with our peoples.
We are not for having one win without considering how to get wins on other issues as well.
We, too, are universally committed to defending and protecting our rights as the First Peoples of Australia.
We can stand together and take this next step to work for practical change.