In acknowledging January 26th as a day of sorrow and reflection for many First Nations people, the Balaangala Community Group used the occasion to present a treaty declaration to a large crowd of members and supporters who had gathered in its community garden.
Declaration of Commitment and Intent
In presenting the Declaration on behalf of Balaangala, Michelle Peile said its focus was really on the work and commitment that the group felt non-Indigenous people needed to undertake.
“But by signing the Declaration, if you’re here today, if you’re a First Nations person, we hope that means you’re endorsing the words and the intention of the document,” Michelle said.
“And of course it would not have been possible for us to get this up without the important support and encouragement from Aunty Flo [Watson], Uncle Nurdon [Serico], Maurice [Serico] and Melinda [Serico] and others,” she added.
Michelle said the group had been yarning about an article which discussed how non-Indigenous people could live a ‘right’ way on Indigenous land and they had then begun talking about a ‘Pay the Rent’ fund.
But then Colin Peile had said: “How can we pay the rent when there’s never been a tenancy agreement?”
“So, in other words, there’s never been a treaty. So that started us thinking about, well, maybe we can have a local treaty,” Michelle said.
That idea ‘bubbled along’ until November 2016, when ten members of Balaangala got together intentionally to begin work on a local treaty.
“We looked at what a treaty is and who can sign it. We wanted to make sure it privileged First Nations voices and knowledges. We wanted to make it meaningful of course, to First Nations people and not something that made white fellas feel good about themselves,” Michelle said.
“And we wanted it to lead to action and not just more talk,” she added.
Earlier, Turrbal Elder Uncle Joe Kirk had performed a Welcome to Country, following a stirring didgeridoo intro by a talented young Aboriginal man whose playing reverberated through the ground and into the souls of everyone present.
“I’m proud [to be] born under the southern cross,” Uncle Joe said, referring to an alternative Australian flag proposal that had been reported that day on the news.
“As an Aboriginal person, this is our wonderful country Australia and we’re celebrating it today. There are ceremonies all over the State and there’s a big one down the road here at The Gap school, of celebrating the citizenship of becoming an Australian,” Uncle Joe said.
“So it’s really proud that we are all one mob,” he said.
“And I always talk about it when I do ANZAC with Aunty Flo and Rosetta and that, we talk about how we’re one mob even though White Australia don’t realise it, because on our Federal buildings there is a kangaroo and an emu, in Canberra snd on our 50 cent piece.
“That’s all of our totems…as Australians. And Aboriginals, our spirituality involves our totems. That’s our spirituality, that’s our being from our ancestors,” he said.
Aunty Flo Watson OAM also spoke at the Treaty Declaration, as a member of the Balaangala Community Group and Reconciliation Queensland management committees.
“I’ve been listening to the comments and watching a lot of things on TV, and reading social media. I thought I’d say a few things,” Aunty Flo said.
“We mourn the declaration of Australia as Terra Nullius, which meant that land belonged to no one, as well as those who’ve died in massacres, those who were dispossessed of their land and homes, those who were denied their humanity, those who we’re shackled, beaten, sent to prison camps and made to live in a zoo,” she said.
“I say let us find a day when we can all feel included and in which we can all participate equally, and we can all celebrate with pride our common Australian identity.
“For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, Australia Day is also an opportunity to recognise the survival of our people and our culture.
“Despite colonisation, discrimination and inequality, we continue to practise our traditions and look after the land. We have survived,” Aunty Flo said.
As Aunty Flo began to speak about the treaty declaration, it was noted in a Facebook post by the Teralba Park Stolen Generations Support Group that ‘her totem (the white cockatoo) made his presence felt very loudly above us, making the moment that more poignant!’
Such was the powerful spirituality and emotion which resonated though everyone who witnessed this moment and the signing of the treaty declaration.
The need for a treaty has been discussed for a very long time.
The Balaangala treaty declaration is reproduced below:
TOWARDS A TREATY:
A DECLARATION OF COMMITMENT AND INTENT
Presented by Members of the Balaangala Towards a Treaty Group, 26 January 2018
We the undersigned –
- all Australians live on Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander land
- land was taken without consent, payment or treaty
- theft of the land included massacres and decimation of cultures and languages
- First Nations people resisted colonisation as evidenced by the “frontier wars”
- generations of First Nations people have continued to fight for land rights, justice, self determination and a voice for their communities
- colonisation has resulted in inter-generational trauma for many First Nations people, their families and communities
- non-Aboriginal Australians have benefited and continue to benefit from colonisation, especially through dispossession of land and stolen or unpaid wages
- on-going racist government policies continue to have a detrimental impact on First Nations peoples
We affirm that:
- non-Aboriginal Australians need to take both personal responsibility for learning the truth of our shared history (beginning in their local community) and its continuing impact on First Nations people
- addressing past and current injustices (political, social, economic) must include compensation (monetary and/or otherwise) and land rights for First Nations people
- reconciliation must include privileging First Nations people’s voices and stories, listening to and hearing the truth with open hearts
We commit to:
- learning more about our shared history and current issues that impact on First Nations people
- engagement and action at our local community level
- supporting a movement towards a national treaty