Aboriginal People and the Constitution

December 4th, 2012  |  Published in Race(ism)

At the recent ARIA awards ceremony, Mandawuy Yunupingu, frontman for Yothu Yindi, accepted the group’s induction into the recording industry’s hall of fame, and used the occasion to advocate for recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the Australian constitution. “As musicians, recognition from our peers is important to us,” he said. “As Aboriginal Australians, recognition from our constitution is even more important.”

I don’t normally follow the ARIA awards, but am grateful they prompted an article about Yunupingu and his message (which you can go to here).

Yunupingu, and many other indigenous Australians (as well as non-indigenous ones) want the cultural identities and languages of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples specifically recognised in the constitution, rather than being lumped under generic Australian-ness.  I’m with them, and have joined 115,000 other supporters (at the time of signing the petition) to say so.

I’ve never given much thought to my place in the constitution. I guess I’ve never needed to, being pretty much part of the dominant group. I doubt it would occupy the forefront of my mind if I was a well known musician being acknowledged for my art, although now I think about it, I imagine I would become quite vocal if I discovered the constitution did not recognise women in any specific way, but just lumped us under men.

I guess it’s obvious I’ve never studied the constitution. Having admitted as much, my next thought was “and I’m not going to either”. That sounded pretty slack, so I went and had a quick look. My eyes glazed over; it goes on and on in chapters and sections and subsections and further subsections of torpid bureaucratise.

In a way it reminded me of a mega-manual of organisational policies and procedures: Does anyone, apart from the people who write them, absorb the detail of such documents? Or, are most people a bit blasé until they discover a need to know, only then to find the documents inadequate for their purposes? I’m certainly aware of that in relation to organisational policy manuals, for example, and have implied as much at some length in my novel, Swimming with Sharks.

I take my metaphorical hat off to anyone who ploughs systematically through the constitution, let alone tries to reform it. How many other non-Indigenous Australians, I wonder, have, like me, failed to realise that Aboriginal Australians lack the luxury of such complacence? I’m dismayed they have to lobby for such fundamentals in their own country, and even more dismayed by my own ignorance. I don’t know what is involved legally, but in terms of social justice the requirement for recognition is unequivocal.

I did know of the struggle for recognition as Australian citizens, culminating in the 1967 referendum, but was unaware of current aims. I’m thus reminded, in a clearly necessary way, that the privilege of privilege is not recognising what makes one privileged.

(The last part of the last sentence is a quote, perhaps a misquote; if anyone can source it, please do, and other comments are also welcome…Joan Beckwith.)

no room for racism


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5 comments on “Aboriginal People and the Constitution”

  1. Legislation has now passed through the House of Representatives. Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott both spoke in support of recognition in the constitution. A date has yet to be set for a referendum and the question formulated. Importantly, the article (see link below) notes that support is not unanimous amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, some of whom favor a treaty, or other ways forward towards reconciliation.

  2. Arden says:

    Sounds like that last line is from this quote: tinyurl.com/d83tz4z

    “The privilege of privilege is that the terms of privilege are rendered invisible.” – Michael S. Kimmel

    And I didn’t even realise Australia had a constitution! So there you go.

    • joanbeckwith says:

      Yes, that certainly looks like the one, and the rest of what Michael Kimmel has to say is also worth checking out. Here’s another, somewhat extended piece that includes reference to what he, a white woman, and a black woman see when they look in the mirror – a human being, a woman, and a black woman respectively (http://www.europrofem.org/audio/ep_kimmel/kimmel.htm).

  3. joanbeckwith says:

    Thanks, Rui, I will. Over the journey I’ve written lots of letters to the editors of newspapers. This is an alternative and, in many ways, more satisfactory form, especially the interactive possibilities.

  4. Rui Santos says:

    keep on posting Joan!!

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