In May 2017, over 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Delegates from all points of the Southern Sky gathered in Mutitjulu in the shadow of Uluru and put their signatures on an historic statement. The Uluru Statement from the Heart is addressed to the Australian people, inviting the nation to create a better future via the proposal of key reforms.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart is an historic peace offering to the Australian people, as a way forward to empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples through legislative change and constitutional recognition. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have never been recognised in the Australian constitution since its creation.
ULURU STATEMENT FROM THE HEARTWe, gathered at the 2017 National Constitutional Convention, coming from all points of the southern sky, make this statement from the heart:
Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs. This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning of our culture, from the Creation, according to the common law from ‘time immemorial’, and according to science more than 60,000 years ago.
This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown.
How could it be otherwise? That peoples possessed a land for sixty millennia and this sacred link disappears from world history in merely the last two hundred years?
With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood.
Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future.
These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the torment of our powerlessness.
We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.
We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution.
Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination.
We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history.
In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.
The artwork surrounding the statement was led by Maruku artist, Rene Kulitja, and was painted by Multijulu artists. The artwork depicts Uluru-Ku Tjukurrpa (The Uluru Story) which has been passed down from many generations, and tells a story of connection from all corners of the land.
The signatures surrounding the statement are from every Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person at the Uluru gathering on 26 May 2017.
Voice Treaty Truth
Voice. Treaty. Truth. (2019 NAIDOC Theme) were three key elements to the reforms set out in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. These reforms represent the unified position of First Nations Australians.
However, the Uluru Statement built on generations of consultation and discussions among Indigenous people on a range of issues and grievances. Consultations about the further reforms necessary to secure and underpin our rights and to ensure they can be exercised and enjoyed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
It specifically sequenced a set of reforms: first, a First Nations Voice to Parliament enshrined in the Constitution and second, a Makarrata Commission to supervise treaty processes and truth-telling.
(Makarrata is a word from the language of the Yolngu people in Arnhem Land. The Yolngu concept of Makarrata captures the idea of two parties coming together after a struggle, healing the divisions of the past. It is about acknowledging that something has been done wrong, and it seeks to make things right.)
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people want their voice to be heard. First Nations were excluded from the Constitutional convention debates of the 1800’s when the Australian Constitution came into force. Indigenous people were excluded from the bargaining table.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have always wanted an enhanced role in decision-making in Australia’s democracy.
In the European settlement of Australia, there were no treaties, no formal settlements, no compacts. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people therefore did not cede sovereignty to our land. It was taken away from us. That will remain a continuing source of dispute.
Our sovereignty has never been ceded – not in 1788, not in 1967, not with the Native Title Act, not with the Uluru Statement from the Heart. It coexists with the sovereignty of the Crown and should never be extinguished.
Australia is one of the few liberal democracies around the world which still does not have a treaty or treaties or some other kind of formal acknowledgement or arrangement with its Indigenous minorities.
A substantive treaty has always been the primary aspiration of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander movement.
Critically, treaties are inseparable from Truth.
Lasting and effective agreement cannot be achieved unless we have a shared, truthful understanding of the nature of the dispute, of the history, of how we got to where we stand.
The true story of colonisation must be told, must be heard, must be acknowledged.
But hearing this history is necessary before we can come to some true reconciliation, some genuine healing for both sides.
And of course, this is not just the history of our First Peoples – it is the history of all of us, of all of Australia, and we need to own it.
Then we can move forward together.
Let’s work together for a shared future.