At the end of 2014, the scene for Indigenous politics in 2015 was truly set: it was going to be a year of increased fight and protest for Indigenous rights.
While it is rare to see a year where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people don't take to the streets to challenge government policies, Western Australian Premier Colin Barnett's announcement in November 2014 of the proposed closure of remote communities led to a large scale movement.
If the idea of forcing Aboriginal people off their traditional lands was not enough to cause anger in the Aboriginal population, the comments made by the then Prime Minister and Minister for Indigenous Affairs sealed the deal.
Tony Abbott's suggestion that remaining connected with family and community on lands with which you have an intense religious connection going back several millennia was a mere lifestyle choice, which the Australian taxpayer was not obligated to supplement, revealed that despite his stated interest in Indigenous affairs, he had a lot to learn.
SOS Blak Australia — a vast network of Indigenous activists started by Sam Cook — sprang into action. November 2014 marked the beginning of an ongoing grassroots campaign of protest to stop the forced closure of Aboriginal communities. Throughout 2015, protests in Australia and across the world shut down major cities in order to highlight the right for Aboriginal people to retain their communities.
In April this year, the crowds in Melbourne, bolstered by solidarity campaigns from unions, political and community groups, swelled to over 4000 people. This CBD shutdown was so successful that it caused a traffic gridlock for several hours and led to Melbourne's Herald Sun labelling the protesters a 'selfish rabble' — a term which was then humorously embraced by the movement.
While Barnett seemed to backpedal slightly on his proposal in May, both his words and Abbott's served as a reminder that as Aboriginal people, rights to our lands and culture are precarious, and continuously under threat by governments. The fight must continue. It is certain that 2016 will see more sovereignty actions by Indigenous communities and their supporters.
Speaking of sovereignty actions, after 15 months occupying The Block, the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy had a win in August. The Tent Embassy had sprung up in protest to a development proposal greenlighted by the Aboriginal Housing Corporation which did not include affordable housing for Aboriginal people. This led to eviction notices (which were defied) and court action against the Embassy.
The spokesman for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion announced the development of 62 affordable dwellings for Aboriginal people and congratulated the Tent Embassy for its action and vigilance over such a prolonged period. It is pleasing that this key urban Indigenous community will thrive and continue its fight well into the future.
Adam Goodes, boos bad
This year also saw Adam Goodes hang up his football boots after an incredibly successful playing career which was, unfortunately, tainted by a series of racist actions against him during its final months.
Goodes, who holds the distinction of captaining the Sydney Swans from 2009–2012, winning the Brownlow Medal twice and being named Australian of the Year in 2014, attracted the ire of racist Australians when he dared to cause a young opposition fan to be ejected from the crowd after she yelled a racial slur at him in 2013.
This, coupled with the Australian of the Year announcement and his growing prominence in the Recognise campaign, led to Goodes being the target of racist actions by crowds, who continually booed him every time he took to the field.
Various non-Indigenous football figures and media commentators swore this targeting was not racism but rather just a normal part of football banter. However, when Goodes' post-football career as an ambassador for retailer David Jones was announced, the store's page was also flooded with racist slurs and calls to boycott, proving the slurs did not just exist within the confines of a game.
Throughout all this, Goodes continually showed class and stuck to his guns on issues of racism and is to be commended.
Roadblocks to constitutional recognition
2015 saw the idea of constitutional recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples make very little ground at all. Partly, this has been because though the government continues to fund the Recognise campaign in order to grow public support for a referendum, fundamental details such as the referendum questions and the form that this recognition will take are yet to be decided upon.
But it is also partly due to the growing awareness of Indigenous opposition to constitutional recognition for a range of reasons, including the ongoing push for a treaty.
Most recently, a Referendum Council was announced to oversee community consultations as the referendum details are finalised. While many Aboriginal people welcome a broader consultation on this topic, it is clear that consensus within the community is far from being reached.
A hope in 2016 is therefore that Indigenous voices and our debates on constitutional recognition will become front and centre in the discussion so that when Australia finally goes to the polls, they are making an informed decision based on the rights of Indigenous people.
Certainly, they should not be making their decisions based upon the continued profiling of conservative non-Indigenous voices.
Watch this space
2016 promises to be a year of continued action and protest in Indigenous politics, building upon the many actions this year.
As was showed by the 2015 Closing the Gap Report, the disparities remain. While Indigenous people continue to be the victims of government paternalism, to be incarcerated at exorbitant rates, and to have to fight for the right to culture, land and community, they will continue to rally on the streets.
Here's hoping that 2016 sees a commitment to change and collaboration from mainstream Australia in order to start a journey forward together.
Celeste Liddle is an Arrernte woman living in Melbourne, the National Indigenous Organiser of the NTEU, and a freelance opinion writer and social commentator. She blogs at Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist.