Let’s Take Giant Steps to End Racism and Injustice Towards Indigenous Peoples

By Bronwyn Carlson—May 25, 2017

As a lecturer in Indigenous studies I reminded my classes about the significance of this week.

“Sorry Day” on 26 May is a day to remember those whose lives are forever affected by the government’s policies and practices of forcibly removing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families.

After that is national reconciliation week, which begins on 27 May and ends on 3 June. These dates also flag significant events: 27 May marks the anniversary of the 1967 referendum and 3 June the historic Mabo decision.

I asked students to reflect on this week’s national reconciliation week theme, “Let’s take the next steps”, especially given we are remembering the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum which was very much about challenging discrimination and taking the next steps.

Many of the students hold the belief that the 1967 referendum was about giving Aboriginal people the vote. They have very little knowledge about the Australian constitution. As most Indigenous educators will know, after 13 weeks of content, students begin to feel overwhelmed hearing about Australian history that includes Indigenous people.

Some find it difficult to shift their thinking from pitying Indigenous people to realising that we are self-determining agents capable of challenging and resisting the structures of domination. I want students to understand Indigenous people as having agency, as creative, political subjects, even if their agency is restricted by social structures. The 1967 referendum reminds us of this. The 10-year campaign followed on from a long history of activism that challenged discrimination and injustice.

The results of the 1967 referendum often bring about feelings of appeasement for students. They seem to think that if so many people voted “yes” it somehow meant an end to racism and inequality. I tell them that the 1967 referendum was about making changes to the Australian constitution. This included voting “yes” to allow the federal government to have the ability to make laws for all Australians without specifically excluding Aboriginal people as the original constitution did (s. 51).

The second change was about counting Aboriginal people as part of the Australian human population (s. 127).

Read more at The Guardian.

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