P U B L I C S T A T E M E N T
Senior initiated clan leader of the Yolŋu Nation of North East Arnhem Land, Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra OAM outlines his position on Treaty and the upcoming Voice Referendum:
“Since the referendum in 1967 when balanda (non-Indigenous) voted for my people to become citizens of a country we already belong to, you have stripped our leaders of their dignity and authority, and by making us the subjects of your Constitution, we have become victims to the devastating laws and policies that your Government has forced upon us.
For decades, these laws and policies have deprived my people of their basic human rights, access to their land and waters, and their God given freedom. And now you are forcing upon us a tokenistic solution to the chaos you have created using the same system that has held us hostage from the very beginning.
If my people vote Yes in your upcoming referendum, it is only because we are grasping for some kind of hope, but it is a false hope.
Albanese has said that the “Voice” will only serve as an advisory body which ‘may or may not’ affect decisions, that ‘it will have no veto power’ and that ‘it will not lead to Treaty with the Crown’.
So I ask, what is all of this referendum actually for? Is it to make balanda feel good? Is it to distract us from the prize that many Elders have been fighting for most of our lives, Treaty? Given the result will only reflect what the majority non-Indigenous population of Australia think is right for us, how can it be empowering for us?
You cannot cherry pick who you consult with and then say it is what all Indigenous people wanted. Most people in remote communities have no idea what this “Voice” is about.
Many have forgotten that some of the same Indigenous spokespeople who are the leading pro-Voice movement are the same Indigenous people who pushed for the 2007 NT Intervention laws which destroyed, and continue to impact, the lives of my people for the last 16 years.
In my 78 years living and working in both worlds, I have witnessed the Australian Government continuously hand pick Indigenous people that behave like the Master Slave, mirroring what the Government says, while they ignore the voices of clan leaders and community members who challenge them and the system they are operating under. This is a continuation of the old colonial approach, that divides and conquers my people.
This vote uses a diseased system that feeds off division and homogenising First Nations people so that we never get close to real solutions that reflect the diversity of our nations. Your proposed “Voice” cannot represent the views of all First Nations across Australia because our experiences and needs are not all the same. Centralised decision making has never worked for us and fails all of humanity. That is why we need our original clan-based leadership and decision-making processes, that we have used for tens of thousands of years, to be recognised and respected.
I question this referendum and the value of the “Voice” that it offers, so I will be voting No. But because of this, you cannot categorize me beside people like Jacinta Price or some of the racist voices also saying No. They have their own reasons. This is so much more than just a Yes or No situation. Where is our right to choose Neither?
Many people feel that they must vote Yes, even though they don’t completely understand or agree with what is offered, and because a No is seen as being too negative. Again, we are being forced to compromise in our ongoing struggle for justice. We deserve better.
If you have really been following Indigenous rights and the policies affecting my people, you will see that Yes is not a step forward in the right direction. It is another step toward the assimilation of our culture and the demeaning of our sovereignty and our Law. It is also important to see that voting No won’t mean a ‘missed opportunity’ because the “Voice” offers nothing meaningful in the first place.
Stop treating us like children and forcing inappropriate solutions upon us, that are propped up by mainstream propaganda and funded by corporations that have never cared for our self-governance, our liberty or our freedom.
We don’t need a saviour. My people have their own pride, their own authority and their own dignity that comes from our Maḏayin system of Law.
If the Government is serious about listening to our voice, they should accept the invitation I have put to them for almost 20 years - To meet in a neutral space with the political leaders of our sovereign governments and begin the overdue process of real dialogue and negotiation.
Those who know me will know that I love all Australians, all human beings, whether you are black or white. I do not promote division whilst seeking justice for my people. I just want real change and real action, not more tokenistic attempts that only serve to make people feel good while achieving nothing.
By Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra OAM / September 22nd 2023