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This Reconciliation Week is different

Written by Sissy Austin (Gunditjmara, Keeray Wurrung and Djab Wurrung)

It has been seven months since the horrendous, painful and racist Voice Referendum on 14th October 2023 and Blakfullas have arrived wounded, but not defeated, at the first Reconciliation week since. 

I have been reflecting a lot about what Reconciliation Week means this year and for this article have asked other Aboriginal Community members how they’ve been feeling.

I have never quite been a fan of Reconciliation Week. There is always a lot of Blak labour, with whitefullas sitting with their cups of tea and catering, listening, or not listening as it would seem from the Referendum result, to us Blakfullas pouring our hearts out. 

But post ‘No’ vote, this year’s Reconciliation Week feels different. I believe it should demand White Australia to look in the mirror, particularly those dancing with the warm and fuzzies of Reconciliation Week. 

Australia voted against the inclusion of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice and recognition in the colonial constitution. Our people came to the Referendum with rightfully varying views, opinions, knowledge systems and voting decisions, but we all experienced the same brutal outcome. 

An outcome that cemented that our lives don’t matter to the majority of human beings in this country. An outcome that gave a ticket to whitefullas to be racist without consequence. It’s no wonder we’re approaching Reconciliation Week with more caution than usual this year.

The Voice Referendum process and result showcased to the world that White Australia is too racist to reconcile with its past and current injustices towards First Nations People. It showed that White Australia is too racist to attempt to envision a future that would require letting go of their white privilege, power and violence towards our peoples, lands, totems and waters. 

After experiencing the months of campaigning prior to the Referendum, that blasted deficit story-telling about the gaps and our people through the media, and the hollow silence following the ‘No’ vote –  it is necessary to examine Reconciliation Week. 

Personally, I have been exploring the question of whether Reconciliation Week is the honeymoon period of the otherwise abusive relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities and the colony and its institutions. 

There is this deafening silence with Reconciliation Week this year. Many well-meaning whitefullas are pushing forward with their Reconciliation Week events, oblivious to the feelings and emotions being deeply felt by our people right now. 

I wonder if they’re aware that many First Nations Community members following the referendum said “reconciliation is dead”? 

In a New York Times article titled “After Bruising Vote, Indigenous Australians Say ‘Reconciliation is Dead” Larissa Baldwin Roberts (Widjabul Wia-bal) told the outlet “Reconciliation only works if you have two parties who are willing to make up after a fight and move on”.

Veronica Gorrie (Gunai/Kurnai Gunditjmara) reflected that “Us Mob know that workplaces, in particular government, have Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPs), as a tokenistic gesture of good will towards Aboriginal people, yet their RAPs are not met. They don’t meet their target of employing Aboriginal people, so when these agents are active during Reconciliation Week, it is of little to no comfort to me. The ‘No’ vote signified that reconciliation isn’t progressing the fight for justice for our people”.

I guess Reconciliation Week pushing forward, despite the calls for it to end, is a fitting narrative to match the elements of an abusive relationship.

In the context of an abusive relationship, a key trait of the perpetrator (in this case, the colony) is an unwillingness to confess and hear the truth. Rather, they place the blame on the victim and paint them as irrational and unhinged. Much of the unsuccess of the Voice Referendum and the alleged failing of the reconciliation movement is blamed on our people.  

Like a victim of domestic violence repeatedly walking through the courtroom, sharing their stories of abuse and pain, for years our people also have taken to court rooms. Most recently in Victoria, we have seen hundreds of Community members giving evidence as part of the Yoorrook Justice Commission. 

Yoorrook, meaning ‘truth’ in Wemba Wemba/Wamba Wamba, is the first truth-telling body to be established in Australia and has the full powers of a Royal Commission.

Yet despite this historic and traumatic truth telling, you have to wonder if it is falling on deaf ears that have only pretended to be listening, or if they’re only listening if it serves their narrative – given the outcome of the Referendum. 

In our current relationship with the colony, we see mothers in court rooms fighting to bring their Blak babies home. 

We see families sitting with tears rolling down their faces in coronial inquests bearing witness to how their family member died in custody, while the perpetrators both refuse to admit guilt and escape punishment from the system that was ultimately built to empower and protect their white lives.  

We see whitefulla’s Acknowledging Country, but do they acknowledge how they’re benefiting from the proceeds of crime? Do they acknowledge that they’re employed by a system that was built to destroy our families, our Communities? Do they acknowledge the massacres and murders that took place on the Country they’re on? We have moved far beyond settling for whitefellas  reading an Acknowledgement of Country card from the sticky note on their computer screen. 

So, with that in mind, I challenge white Australia, to challenge Reconciliation Week. 

I am not asking you to go rogue on your allyship and set RAPs on fire – instead I challenge you to delve deeply into this honeymoon period, and ask yourself, your organisation, why not more?

As shared by Caroline Kell (Mbarbrum), “nevertheless, in contemporary discourse, the conversation around reconciliation feels stagnant, well-meaning, yet somewhat ineffective in catalysing transformative change. It is important we redirect our attention towards the pursuit of Treaties and the endeavours outlined in Yoorrrook” 

And in the words of Uncle Archie Roach in his powerful song “Let Love Rule”, I truly believe that when we find ourselves in a position to accept being guided by love, we will have generations to come who won’t have attended more funerals than weddings, who won’t have had to watch their child being murdered on CCTV footage in a Coroners Court and who won’t have to merely get through the honeymoon period that is, Reconciliation Week. 

This Reconciliation Week is different: it is not business as usual; it is off the back of the No Vote and my people are dying.