2013 Reconciliation Week Blog – Symbolism, change and reconciliation

Guest Blogger – Luke Pearson, IndigenousX

This post forms part of the Castan Centre’s 2013 Reconciliation Week guest blog series. You can also read the  post by Inala Cooper of Monash University, and the post by Shireen Morris of the Cape York Institute.

Luke Pearson
Luke Pearson

National Reconciliation Week is upon us… and Sorry Day is just behind us.And sadly it’s a been a bit of a sorry Reconciliation Week in the media so far. Recent events seem to have overshadowed the week, when it seems like now is probably the perfect time to highlight it.

These few acts being played out in public mirror what goes on out of the public eye every day, and while there is a lot of interest in these issues when they involve celebrities or high profile people, when it involves a boss and an employee, a teacher and a student, a police officer and a member of the public, the cameras are rarely there to see. The same can be said of much of the excellent work that already goes on in terms of achieving meaningful Reconciliation. These things too often fall outside of the realm of what is considered ‘newsworthy’.

And while Reconciliation Week is about a lot more than stopping to do the annual racism stock take, it is important that we don’t ignore the size or frequency of the problem either. The size of that problem is also a good indicator of how much more work there is to be done, and across what areas.

This is true not just in terms of ongoing racism, but also in terms of all of the issues important to achieving Reconciliation.

And while I believe an important part of Reconciliation is to do with human relationships, forging friendships and partnerships built on mutual respect and understanding, I also believe that “There can be no Reconciliation without justice”.

And I believe Reconciliation Week is a perfect time to talk about any and all issues to do with Reconciliation. It is important that we take the time to acknowledge, learn more about and better understand the many amazing people who have fought long and hard to create many of the tools, resources and opportunities that exist today; and it is important to acknowledge those still being denied basic justice, and those fighting to achieve it. This is important if we are to take seriously the issue of healing the wounds of the past and the present, treating those wounds effectively and building a better future for all of us.

This comes from a depth of knowledge, and experience, of both the positive and negative.

Some people think that Sorry Day and Reconciliation are purely symbolic, but a symbol is only as meaningful as what it symbolises.

Reconciliation Week itself is based around two key dates, and starts the day after another important date: Sorry Day.

In my own life, with my own family, friends, and community; as a teacher, an organiser, and as administrator of @IndigenousX; every week is Reconciliation Week and any day can be Sorry Day. I see these events as important because of what the symbols represent to me. Not just the history they represent, but the ongoing struggles to achieve justice, and Reconciliation.

Sorry Day is held on the 26th of May, and has been ever since 1998. The first Sorry Day marked the first anniversary of the report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families, the Bringing The Home Report, was tabled in Parliament. This year marked the 15th year of its tabling.

An annual Sorry Day was actually recommendation 7a of that report. The apology from Kevin Rudd was recommendation 5a(1). Recommendation 5a(3) was reparations.

Sorry is one recommendation, the apology is one third of one recommendation.

There were 54 recommendations in total.

Some people are still fighting for other recommendations to be implemented, or for those that have been implemented to be kept. Teaching the Stolen Generations history in schools, or ‘Black Arm Band’ history as it is often referred, was another recommendation of that report. We might have to strike that off the list of implemented recommendations soon too.

National Reconciliation Week runs from the anniversary of the 1967 Referendum through to the anniversary of the 1992 Mabo High Court Decision. Human rights. Land rights. Sovereignty. Terra Nullius… A fair go for all.

These are not ‘just’ symbols.

Sorry Day and Reconciliation Week represent important dates in our national calendar but they do not simply represent ‘history’ to me, they represent unfinished business.

We should commemorate Sorry Day, and work to address the ongoing impacts of the Stolen Generations, of that I am in no doubt. We should also celebrate Reconciliation Week and acknowledge the achievements and inspirational things going on every day to help achieve true Reconciliation.

However, we should not forget that there are a lot of other recommendations from a lot of other reports that have still not been implemented, or that are at risk. That are a lot of recommendations from a lot of other reports, a lot of pleas and petitions, a lot of action plans (RAPs or otherwise) that have never been seriously considered, let alone implemented anywhere.

The theme of Sorry Day this year was “SORRY: Still living on borrowed time”. This is a call to action, not a call to symbolism.

I hope people take the opportunities that National Reconciliation Week presents. Showcase the strengths of our communities, and reflect on the past and on the future. Engage with your friends, your family, your peers and the wider community, celebrate achievements and pay respect to those who made them possible and are making them possible every day, everywhere around Australia.

Symbolism alone means nothing, but symbols of our commitment to achieving real change and a celebration of achievements made, and of achievements to come, can mean a lot.

Reconciliation is everyone’s business, and achieving Reconciliation is of benefit to everyone who believes in justice, fairness, human rights, respect and partnership.

It is not about ‘charity’, it is about justice.

It is not about ignoring the good or the bad, it is about recognising and addressing both.

It is not about ‘helping Aboriginal people’, it is about working together, respecting each other and removing the many barriers that too often exist between us. Barriers of access and opportunity as well as of understanding.

As Lilla Watson is credited with saying: “If you have come to help me you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine then let us work together.”

Luke Pearson is the creator of @IndigenousX, he is a teacher, an advocate, and a consultant. He is also currently a member of the Wikileaks Party National Council. You can follow him on Twitter at @LukeLPearson

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