Reconciliation accepts indigenous Australians are unique

On the day the Native Title Amendment Bill passed through the Lower House, Patrick Dodson and Frank Brennan came together in Melbourne to talk reconciliation. The following excerpt from Dodson's speech appeared in Eureka Street in December 1997.

Pat DodsonThe Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation has been a unique opportunity in this country. The parties in Parliament unanimously agreed to the legislation that set up the Council some six or seven years ago and provided to the Australian nation an opportunity, over a ten-year period, to try to come to terms with those things that have been the cause of discord and division, that have been the cause of misinterpretation, that have been the cause of hurt and frustration, and injustice.

But [it is an opportunity] also to look to the future — how we might go forward into the next century as friends, as equals and as people with some pride in our effort at grappling with these complex, cross-cultural interpretations and understandings about each other. The Council also addresses the physical requirements, like health and housing, education and employment, so that the quality of life for indigenous people in this country is something about which we no longer cite reports highlighting the over-representation of the indigenous people on many of the social-indicator areas.

I think this country has responded well, generally, to the process of reconciliation. Cast your minds back to five or six years. Probably, for a lot of you here, the word 'reconciliation' has a Catholic resonance, but for those for whom it doesn't — and there are many in this country — it seemed a big type of concept, a concept that was about whether I, personally, wanted to do something in terms of reconciliation or not. It was a matter for me to make some choice.

That's still a strong view held by some of our political leaders — that this is just a matter of individual choice. That defies the history we are gradually understanding better: the history of dispossession of the Aboriginal people; those policies that have led to the denial of their full citizenship of this country, and the legislation that denied that; the bureaucratic activity that lorded over and determined the direction of life for many Aboriginal people, which has probably gone on unknown to most Australians; and those more heinous activities like the removal of children from their mothers, their families and their country ...

The way forward in the reconciliation process is fundamentally to reassess our notions of who the Aboriginal people are ... we have a desire to see equality, we have a desire to see justice, we have a desire that people enjoy the benefits of our society, but the indigenous people are unique in this nation: they are the first Australians. And by virtue of that they are entitled — even though it's not recognised or accepted — to maintain their own cultural identity. And part of that cultural identity are their beliefs; their connection to land; their ability to hand on to their future generations their traditions and customs, interpretations and views of the world ...

For the indigenous people, the reconciliation process is about how the nation can walk into the next century with pride in having resolved the causes of division and discord. Now, you'd have to be, not an optimist, but you'd have to have some faith in something other than politicians, if you believe that's going to happen in the next three years. And that faith is in people like yourselves — in the Australian people who believe that we have come to a stage in our country where the nonsense of whether the pendulum has swung too far or not stands naked by the very facts of ongoing injustices to the indigenous people ...

We are, I believe, at the point where many Australians want to go into the next century feeling that we've put ourselves to the test, as it were, we've tried our bit to contribute. But we must be very clear that there are some people who would dash it to the ground; there are some people who would turn it into something else.

And that is what we have to be vigilant about. We have to work through those complex issues, we have to build relationships where we can recognise friendship, warmth, where we get a sense of belonging, where indigenous people can see the window of opportunity through the eyes and hearts of many good non-aboriginal people in this country, as I've had those opportunities from many, many non-aboriginal people that I've met ...

There are many Australians in that category and that should not be forgotten. But there are some people who wish to turn back the progress and the development and the direction that has been developed in the last 30 years in this country. They want to take us back to the simplicity of the 'assimilationist' philosophy, and simply say we're all the same, there's nothing unique about the indigenous people. Well that's been the message for 200 years, and it hasn't advanced our relationship. I suggest it's wrong and it's outmoded.

We have to find a way where the indigenous people are able to feel and understand that their right to their cultural identity is something we, as Australians, are prepared to make a place for.

Pat DodsonPatrick Dodson is a Yawuru man from Broome, Western Australia. He is a former Chairman of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, a former Commissioner into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, and former Catholic priest.



submit a comment

Existing comments

Patrick should be Governor General for Australia. Like Patrick I also went to Sacred Heart College-Hamilton

Phillip Moore | 06 February 2008  

An apology to the Stolen Generations is vital. So is an apology to all those taken into care because of destitution and poverty. So is an apology to all those indigenous people who struggled on in the face of tremendous obstacles to keep family together, who endured hostility, poor education, exclusion from towns and cities, dire poverty, discrimination and injustice. And official recognition should also go to the 22 thousand indigenous people so far, who spurned a life on welfare and graduated from universities all over Australia.

One apology may not make up for the hardships of the last 220 years, but at least it will be a start.

Joe | 07 February 2008  

If I was getting drunk, fighting, maybe molesting my kids, being a complete dropkick i don't think anyone would be interested in apologising to me. How about all the people that believe in reconciliation take care of paying out the compensation and leave us more sensible people out of it.

jim morris | 12 February 2008  

i love you! o'adorable angel! u r doin too rious. it's an accredited n absolute act of superlative humanitarian pioneering to devote yourself for the Great Aboriginals of australia, who actually r THE MASTERS OF AUSTRALIA. this only i might feeeeeeeeeeeeeel because once upon a time my ancestors live in this land of confiscation. due to life threats in the backdrop of massacres by the hands of european settlers my blood carriers migrated to india, then divided into indo-pak partition.

sipra | 05 March 2009  

Similar Articles

Green consumerism counterproductive

  • Jen Vuk
  • 15 February 2008

It's time to scrutinise the rapid rise of the 'shopping green' movement in the US and elsewhere, and assess the sum total of its effect on the environment. By buying bottled water, organic food, or sunscreen, consumers are arguably shutting the healthy individual in and the threatening world out.


The business of unbirth

  • Peter Lach-Newinsky
  • 12 February 2008

candles and candle holders for funeral ceremony.. hand bouquet for the deceased.. coffin storage fee at cemetery cool room.. technical cremation fee



Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up