Aboriginal Sovereignty Day Declared

Friday, January 27, 2006

Representatives of Australian Aboriginal Sovereign Nations at a gathering in Canberra, have declared that the 26th of January would be known as Aboriginal Sovereignty Day. January 26th (Australia Day) is Australia's official national day - commemorating the landing of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove in 1788.

While the rest of the country celebrated the Australia Day holiday with medals, barbecues, fireworks and beer under the Union Jack and Southern Cross, hundreds of people at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra lit a ceremonial fire and discussed the land that once belonged to their ancestors. Indigeneous Elders have gathered this week at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy for the Corroboree for Sovereignty convergence, in response to what they say is the continual Government threat to control the historical Tent Embassy site.

The gathering identified the 34-year-old Tent Embassy on the grounds of Old Parliament House in Canberra, as a significant place of social, spiritual and political importance to Aboriginal Peoples - a symbol of the assertion of Aboriginal Sovereignty. The Aboriginal Embassy, not considered an official embassy by the Australian government, has come under review recently in a bid to remove the campsite and dwellings originally founded on Australia Day in 1972.

The Tent Embassy calls on all Aboriginal Sovereign Nations to "stand up against the illegal occupation of our country and continue to resist the oppression of our people." The Tent Embassy say that "until there is true justice for our people, these issues will not go away and we will continue to resist."

Members of the Embassy will take a sacred fire to Melbourne in March for the 2006 "Stolenwealth Games" campaign, in an effort to highlight the plight of Aboriginal people. The fire will contain a "message of peace, healing and justice, and create a focal point for unfinished business."

The group calls on all Aboriginal Nations to send representatives to the Embassy to commemorate and review the issues of Land Rights in Australia. The Tent Embassy also announced the establishment of the National Tribal Law Council.

The High Court of Australia has on a number of occasions rejected any actual legal notion of Aboriginal sovereignty.

"Invasion Day"

Indigenous leaders, including Marji Thorpe, Gary Foley, Robbie Thorpe and Michael Mansell claim that Native Title and Reconciliation haven't adequately addressed Indigenous rights. They say: "Native Title has mainly embroiled Indigenous peoples in complex legal processes where they have (generally unsuccessfully) had to prove their fundamental human rights to the land."

The campaigners, known as the Black GST, say the process "puts the onus on Indigenous peoples to somehow prove continuous connection with their land, an impossible task in many situations given the effects of our dispossession and attempted genocide."

On Australia Day the diverse and vibrant group marched peacefully through Canberra, gathered at the Embassy on the lawns in front of Old Parliament House and called for recognition of indigenous sovereignty over the land. "We're wanting to let all the people know that all the land in Australia has been given back to the Aboriginal people... and the sovereignty now lies with all Aboriginal nations," a spokesperson Robert Corowa said at the Embassy.

To many Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people, Australia Day is labelled "Invasion Day" - in recognition of the colonisation of the continent by the British, he said. "We call it invasion day. The most important thing is that everybody in Australia who's now living here... we strongly encourage them to come to the Aboriginal Tent Embassy and place a leaf in our fire."

Legal director of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre (TAC), Michael Mansell, says the current Australia Day celebrations should be scrapped and a new national day chosen. Mansell said Australia Day would forever remain a racist blot on Australia's political landscape as long as the event was held on the anniversary of the landing of the First Fleet.

"There can never be reconciliation between whites and Aborigines so long as the anniversary of the coming of white people is the basis for celebrating Australia Day," he said. "A fair and just society cannot be built on celebrating gains by one race at the expense of another."

Mr Mansell has also reported the theft of an Aboriginal sign from the TAC premises. The sign reading: "AUSTRALIA DAY Yes, let’s celebrate: MURDER, INVASION, RAPE, THEFT" was removed on the 25th of January hours after being installed on the Launceston premises.

Mansell says that he will replace the sign in an effort to "the obvious need to expose the myth, as expressed in the national anthem, that Australia is a free and fair country" and called for "white society" to punish the offenders.

"This is another instance of the continuing trend in Tasmania of racist attacks on both people and property by extreme elements of white society who don't like the truth, who don't like Aborigines and other races. As with the racial attacks on middle Eastern people in Sydney, these Tasmanian incidents show how Australia under the Howard government is becoming more openly xenophobic," he said.

Flag Burning

Activists in Brisbane yesterday burned an Australian flag to protest against celebrations marking European settlement in Australia. Around 300 protesters staged an "Invasion Day" demonstration. Queensland Premier Peter Beattie condemned the action.

"I don't care whether they're black or white ... I don't believe we should burn the Australian flag, particularly at this time (when) we all know we live in an unsettled world," he said.

One protester said he believed the wrong flag had been burned: "I just felt deep down that it should have been the British flag they burnt not the Australian one."

Compulsory National Anthem

The Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre has strongly opposed the compulsory singing of the Australian national anthem in schools.

NSW Premier Morris Iemma wants to make it compulsory for NSW schoolchildren to sing the national anthem each day before class. The plan has strong support from both sides of Parliament in Tasmania as well as the Multicultural Council of Australia and the Australian National Flag Association.

However some Aboriginal support groups say forcing the singing of the national anthem diminishes individual enthusiasm for participation.

Michael Mansell says, "more importantly, the anthem is about the white people and immigrants and excludes Aborigines." He said the words "for we are young and free" were a clear reference to the last 200 years of colonisation by Europeans and dismissed the ownership of the country by Aboriginal people.