Thursday, May 30, 2013

National Reconciliation Week, 27 May - 3 June

It's National Reconciliation Week, and we're celebrating on The Brown Couch with a post by John, who is a Paralegal with our Aboriginal Legal Team. Thanks John.


NRW- Let’s Talk Recognition

It is that time of the year again, time to celebrate National Reconciliation Week held between 27 May and the 3 June. The theme for this year is 'Let’s Talk Recognition'— It is about the need to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Australian Constitution, with a focus on how Australians can better recognise each other, and recognise the contributions, cultures and histories of Indigenous peoples. I believe that constitutional recognition of Australia’s first people is a very crucial part of equality and moving forward and developing together as a nation. 

The dates of the NRW hold special historical significance to Indigenous People as it commemorates two momentous events towards reconciliation in Australia. The first of these being the successful 1967 referendum which saw over 90 per cent of Australians vote to give the Commonwealth the power to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and recognise them in the national census. The second was the Mabo decision in the High Court of Australia, which legally recognised that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have a special relationship to the land—that existed prior to colonisation and still exists today. This recognition was expressed as ‘native title’ – a type of legal interest in land that pre-dates ‘radical title’, and restricts the rights of non-Indigenous land users in circumstances where it has not yet been extinguished*. It has had a profound impact on Indigenous rights to land, and, by association (and in conjunction with other legal and social developments), approaches to Indigenous housing.

This is borne out in New South Wales through schemes under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 and the Aboriginal Housing Act 1998 – where rental housing is owned and, in most cases managed, by Aboriginal communities for Aboriginal people. These laws are about land rights and housing - they have no direct correlation with ‘native title’ as such. But they might be seen as tacit recognition of the need to do better by Indigenous communities, especially considering Australia’s varied approaches to Indigenous people since colonisation. In some ways, such schemes could be seen as an attempt to put reconciliation into action – but if we are to take this view, we must also recognise that there is a great deal more to be done.

Anyone can get involved in NRW with events being held all around the country. If it’s not possible to attend these events I would encourage people and organizations to celebrate and acknowledge the week in their own ways. These can be simple things like playing Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander music in your workplace, purchasing indigenous artwork to hang around your office or simply displaying the free 2013 NRW Poster. 

We all know the importance of recognition and National Reconciliation Week is the perfect opportunity to get involved and recognise Indigenous people and their culture. To register a reconciliation event go to http://www.reconciliation.org.au/nrw/register-your-event and help bring Australia forward. 


*There is much to be said about the extinguishment of native title. The basic tools for extinguishment are provided in the Native Title Act 1993. A series of prominent legal decisions since Mabo have profoundly influenced this law. For a fair understanding of native title and its extinguishment, further reading is essential.

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