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Royal visit's model for Aboriginal sovereignty

  • 24 October 2018


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.

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