The gift of Makarrata offers opportunity to create a bridge between an ancient past and a hopeful future

Catherine Hunter, Partner, Corporate Citizenship
Catherine Hunter, Partner, Corporate Citizenship

There are an estimated 370 million Indigenous people in the world, living across 90 countries. They make up less than 5 percent of the world’s population, but account for 15 percent of the poorest. They speak an overwhelming majority of the world’s estimated 7,000 languages and represent 5,000 different cultures. They are inheritors and practitioners of unique cultures and ways of relating to people and the environment.

Ten years ago, on 13 September 2007, the General Assembly adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It was a major milestone showing cooperation and solidarity between Indigenous peoples and Member States.

It was ratified by the Australian Government.

The Declaration is the most comprehensive international instrument on the rights of Indigenous peoples. It embodies global consensus and establishes a universal framework of minimum standards for their survival, dignity and well-being.

The implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has achieved some major successes over the last decade, especially at the global level. However, there is still a need to address remaining gaps between the formal recognition of Indigenous peoples and the implementation of policies on the ground. At the national level, political will, technical capacity and financial commitment must be demonstrated to implement the Declaration as the minimum standard for the well-being of Australia’s Indigenous peoples.

And we must bring not only our minds, but also our hearts to these issues.

We now have evidence of more than 65,000 years of rich and highly sophisticated culture and industry; a history all Australians can share and celebrate. But we also have a more recent history of bloodshed, vilification and dispossession.

We mustn’t let this dark past overshadow the resilience of tens of thousands of years of culture, but we must be more honest and truthful in telling the story of our past.

The wars of the colonisation of Australia should be featured in our national war memorial for they shaped our nation and help us understand why Australia’s First Peoples deserve to be recognised for their rich contribution to our nation. Our shared past gives us a powerful reference point for understanding how basic human rights have been denied our First Australians in so many ways, an understanding that surely can only help inform policy, programs and the path to reconciliation.

The apology to the Stolen Generations, nine years ago this February, galvanised the nation. It was a catalyst for corporate Australia to see that committing to reconciliation wasn’t the responsibility of government alone, but of all Australians. It allowed the healing process to begin for many.

At Garma last year, a national Indigenous economic and cultural festival in North East Arnhem Land, I had the privilege to hear Indigenous leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu speak.

He spoke then of land rights as “the right to take our heart”. I’ve never heard the land rights debate put so eloquently nor potently; many people have passed away before they’ve seen the progress of their fights, and with broken hearts.

On the weekend, I was again privileged to hear Galarrwuy Yunipingu speak. This time, he spoke of the “right to have a voice”. He was speaking from a wheelchair, a result of his struggle with diabetes, a disease sweeping Indigenous communities in epidemic proportions, and a contributor to the 10-year gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Despite this, he spoke with courage, conviction and even humour. With the gift of the Yolngu language word, Makarrata, a word that speaks of a dispute resolution process that results in peace, he urged our PM and Opposition leader to take their words spoken at Garma and share them with their parliamentary colleagues.

We have asked Indigenous Australians what they want, and they have united around the Uluru Statement from the Heart. We have been invited by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to “walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.”

Now is the moment for our political leaders to lead, for everyday Australians and all sectors of business and the community to support the outcomes of the referendum council. Not only is this the right thing to do, our national identity depends on it.

Today, with the gift of Makarrata, we have the opportunity to create a bridge between an ancient past and a hopeful future.

As the Uluru statement notes “In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard”.

On the International Day of Indigenous Peoples, will we now listen?

Catherine is a Partner at KPMG and Chairperson of the Global Compact Network Australia. From 2012-13, Catherine was a member of the global taskforce and Expert Group convened by the UN Global Compact to develop the Business Reference Guide for the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

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