Royal visit's model for Aboriginal sovereignty

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This week Prince Harry and Meghan Markle visited Fraser Island as part of the royal couple's tour of Australia. There the Prince met with members of the Butchella people, who are the traditional owners of K'gari (Fraser Island). The forests of K'gari are included in the Queen's Commonwealth Canopy conservation initiative.

Prince Harry stands with Aboriginal man Joe Gala at McKenzie's Jetty where he took part in an aboriginal cleansing ceremony on Fraser Island (Stephen Lock - Pool/Getty Images)Prior to the royal tour, which also takes in Fiji, Tonga and New Zealand, the palace advised that 'the program across these four Commonwealth countries will focus on youth leadership, environmental and conservation efforts, including the dedication of several new Queen's Commonwealth Canopy projects'. The royal couple said in an interview back in November 2017 that they wanted to promote humanitarian causes close to their hearts across Commonwealth-member countries, including Australia.

As an Aboriginal woman, I find it interesting to see how involved the royals are now with land conservation schemes that form part of the Crown's commitment to sustaining Commonwealth land, yet which also involve Indigenous Australians. We have, of course, never ceded sovereignty, and it is this authority that affords us power to engage in land conservation. However, many of our land conservation efforts since Mabo have been made available only through native title legislation, and even then, with great difficulty.

Furthermore, the system that keeps our cultural autonomy assimilated and oppressed calls itself a representative democracy, yet from our perspective, we feel that our voices remain unheard. Seeing a modern royal couple prioritise our own land conservation more than the Australian government does is the ultimate example of just how disrespected and politically powerless we truly are.

It feels as though every single time we, as Indigenous Australians, make efforts to assert our sovereignty in co-existence with the Crown (as seen most recently with the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the Final Report from the Referendum Council), we are shut down. Whatever we ask for, we either must jump over a bunch of obstacles used to keep us in check, or we are simply ignored.

However, if our issues are presented from a non-Indigenous perspective, then the reception and prioritisation of them are different. Those voices are respected. Most recently we've seen this with the government's voice drowning out the proposals put forth in the Uluru Statement. We saw it again in our newly appointed non-Indigenous special envoy, Tony Abbott, taking care of our affairs for us, and purporting to speak for Indigenous Australia.

Government approaches to policy-making regarding Indigenous Australians employ tactics that have demanded we compromise our sovereignty. Commonwealth legislation has required us to continuously meet government standards which are irrelevant to our assertion of continued cultural autonomy and power over Australian land.

 

"For the Australian polity to progress, the political and legal sovereignty of the Crown and Indigenous Australians must be realised and embraced as two co-existing sovereignties that are not at odds with each other, but have a relationship built on mutual respect, and work together."

 

For many years, Indigenous Australians have worked hard to properly adhere to cultural obligations to protect the land, including ancient landmarks and what Anglo-Australian law declares to be heritage sites. Yet often our claims are unsuccessful because native title legislation strictly requires undisrupted connection to the land. This ignores the reality of our experiences throughout Australian history. Since colonisation, assimilation and absorption policies have forcibly removed many Indigenous Australians from their land and, as noted in the apology from former PM Kevin Rudd, from their parents' care and culture.

In that respect, and given that contemporary English royals are now distant from Australian political reality, it feels as though the royals represent a sense of modernisation and progression compared to the 'representative democratic' regime that governs Australia.

For the Australian polity to progress, the political and legal sovereignty of the Crown and Indigenous Australians must be realised and embraced as two co-existing sovereignties that are not at odds with each other, but have a relationship built on mutual respect, and work together. The Crown's Canopy projects are one example of how this relationship can work.

The Uluru Statement realises that kind of relationship in its opening line, contextualising sovereignty as a spiritual notion tied to relationality with the land and its people over time. Sovereignty, in all the different forms it might take, is grounded in relationships.

Thus, for both cultures to co-exist and emerge into a contemporary political setting, trust and generosity from both sides (not just from the oppressed) must be present. The Statement from the Heart expresses a fuller version of Australia's nationhood and history in how it prioritises a truth-telling narrative to guide progression. Perhaps the progressiveness of royal representatives might offer inspiration for reform to benefit both cultures, all citizens, and humanitarian causes close to everyone's hearts.

 

 

Dani LarkinDani Larkin is a Bunjalung woman who grew up on the Aboriginal community Baryulgil. She is an admitted lawyer and has practiced in a variety of areas of law. Dani is studying her PhD in law at Bond University with her thesis topic on 'The Law and Policy of Indigenous Cultural Identity and Political Participation: A Comparative Analysis between Australia, Canada and New Zealand'.

Main image: Prince Harry stands with Aboriginal man Joe Gala at McKenzie's Jetty where he took part in an aboriginal cleansing ceremony on Fraser Island (Stephen Lock - Pool/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Dani Larkin, Prince Harry, Meghan Markle

 

 

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Existing comments

Dani Larkinā€˜s artical about the royal visit being a model for Aboriginal sovereignty was illuminating. Shows up our dinosaurs in Parliament for what they are; a pack of red coats from around the time of the Rum Rebellion.
Val | 25 October 2018


NSW Government has just passed sale of Western Division Crown Lands and extinguished Aboriginal Title. This includes the Murray/Darling system
Margaret McGowan | 25 October 2018


Harry will be back in the UK in a week or so - where there is no sovereignty for Wales, Scotland, etc. Best he didn't make political statements against the country that paid for his trip.
James | 27 October 2018


The Windsor dynasty is founded on bloodshed, conquest, murder and tyranny of the citizens of India, South Africa, Australia's indigenous, New Zealand Mouris, Scotland and Ireland to name a few places.
Frank Armstrong | 03 November 2018


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