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‘We invite you to walk with us’

2017: Uluru Statement from the Heart issued

Photo: John Coppi. CSIRO Land and Water
2000 Today

Use the following additional activities and discussion questions to encourage students (in small groups or as a whole class) to think more deeply about this defining moment.

Questions for discussion

1. The Turnbull Government rejected the Uluru Statement from the Heart, saying Australians were unlikely to accept it. Why do you think this decision was made at that time?

2. Do you think the goals of the Uluru Statement from the Heart will eventually be adopted by a future government? Give reasons for your answer.

3. Do you agree with the National Museum of Australia that the Uluru Statement from the Heart is a defining moment in Australian history? Explain your answer.

Image activities

1. Look carefully at all the images for this defining moment. Tell this story in pictures by placing them in whatever order you think works best. Write a short caption under each image.

2. Which three images do you think are the most important for telling this story? Why?

3. If you could pick only one image to represent this story, which one would you choose? Why?

Finding out more

1. What else would you like to know about this defining moment? Write a list of questions and then share these with your classmates. As a group create a final list of three questions and conduct some research to find the answers.

<p>The Ulu<u>r</u>u Statement from the Heart, with signatures of those who attended the National Convention. The surrounding artwork, by Rene Kulitja and other local artists (Charmaine Kulitja, Happy Reid and Christine Brumby), depicts A<u>n</u>angu stories (Tjukurrpa) about the creation of the country around Ulu<u>r</u>u</p>
Photo: Thomas Mayor

In a snapshot

The Uluru Statement from the Heart was created by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from around Australia and released in 2017. It calls for major changes to the Australian Constitution. The Statement proposes a permanent ‘First Nations Voice’ to Parliament, and a ‘Makarrata Commission’ to take part in ‘agreement-making’ and to support ‘truth-telling’ about the past. These proposals were subsequently rejected by the Australian Government.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart, with signatures of those who attended the National Convention. The surrounding artwork, by Rene Kulitja and other local artists (Charmaine Kulitja, Happy Reid and Christine Brumby), depicts Anangu stories (Tjukurrpa) about the creation of the country around Uluru

Findout icon Can you find out?

1. What key document has never properly recognised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people?

2. When was the Referendum Council set up? What did it aim to do?

3. What were the two main proposals made in the Uluru Statement from the Heart?

What led up to the Uluru Statement from the Heart?

The special place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the first peoples of Australia, who lived here long before European settlement, has never been recognised in the Australian Constitution.

From 1788 European settlers took land, arguing that it was ‘terra nullius’ (land belonging to nobody). But Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples never gave up sovereignty. And the two groups never made a formal treaty. 

For many years Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have protested about the way they have been treated in the past and continue to be treated. The Australian Government has introduced measures to address some important issues affecting the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. But there has been only limited meaningful discussion between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians on issues relating to land ownership and sovereignty.

Recently some non-Indigenous Australians have suggested changing the Constitution so that it recognises that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were the first people who lived in Australia and that they had, and continue to have, close connections with the land.

But many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people believe this would only be a symbolic change. Instead they want bigger changes to the Constitution that they believe will lead to a better relationship between all Australians in the future.

What was the role of the Referendum Council?

On 7 December 2015 Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten jointly set up the Referendum Council. The Council’s role was to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people come to an agreement about Constitutional recognition. 

The Referendum Council held 13 First Nations Regional Dialogues in all parts of Australia. A total of 1200 people attended the Dialogues and another 200,000 people — both Indigenous and non-Indigenous — expressed their views through written reports, letters, social media or surveys.

The 13 Dialogues rejected the idea of adding a statement of recognition to the Constitution. Participants believed the statement would be too watered down to be useful. They also worried that such a statement might suggest that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had accepted the loss of their sovereignty over the land.

All the Dialogues supported the idea of a ‘Voice to the Parliament’. And all except one Dialogue wanted to improve agreement-making through treaty and truth-telling. These became main parts of the Uluru Statement.

The Dialogues ended in a National Constitutional Convention held at Uluru from 23 to 26 May 2017. The Convention created the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

Research task

 

The Uluru Statement from the Heart says, ‘In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard’. Find out what ‘being counted’ means.

Research task

 

Research what has happened since the Uluru Statement from the Heart was rejected. Are its goals still being supported and advanced?

‘What Aboriginal people ask is that the modern world now makes the sacrifices necessary to give us a real future. To relax its grip on us. To let us breathe, to let us be free of the determined control exerted on us to make us like you … Let us be who we are — Aboriginal people in a modern world — and be proud of us.’

Galarrwuy Yunupingu, Yolngu elder, July 2016

What is the Uluru Statement from the Heart?

The majority of people at the Convention agreed with the idea of a ‘Voice to the Parliament’. They proposed that an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander body be created that sat apart from Parliament. It would allow Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to check on government legislation and argue for better treatment. 

The Statement also called for a ‘Makarrata Commission’. ‘Makarrata’ is a word from the Yolngu language of East Arnhem Land. It means an act of peacemaking or reconciliation between individuals or groups, a ‘coming together after struggle’. 

The Makarrata Commission would have two functions: to supervise the process of agreement-making between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and governments; and to allow for ‘truth-telling’ about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history. In the truth-telling process non-Indigenous Australians would hear and acknowledge stories and reports about their past relationship with Indigenous people. 

The Uluru Statement was signed by the Convention participants and framed by artwork which tells Anangu stories about the creation of the country around Uluru.

<p>Delegates at the National Constitution Convention, Ulu<u>r</u>u, 26 May 2017</p>

Photo: Jimmy Widders Hunt

<p>Delegates at the National Constitution Convention, Ulu<u>r</u>u, 26 May 2017</p>

How did the Australian Government respond to the Uluru Statement?

The Uluru Statement was presented to the Turnbull government which rejected it. Prime Minister Turnbull argued that Australians would not agree to the proposal for a ‘Voice to the Parliament’, which he argued, ‘would inevitably become seen as a third chamber of parliament’. But opinion polls showed that many Australians supported the proposals. 

There were no further government actions in relation to the Uluru Statement until October 2019 when the Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, set up a group to look at possible forms of an Indigenous voice to government. 

Research task

 

Use the Defining Moments Timeline (‘Indigenous filter’) to find out about another important defining moment for Indigenous rights.

Defining Moments Timeline

 

‘We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.’

 

Final words of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, 2017

Read a longer version of this Defining Moment on the National Museum of Australia’s website.

Findout icon What did you learn?

1. What key document has never properly recognised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people?

2. When was the Referendum Council set up? What did it aim to do?

3. What were the two main proposals made in the Uluru Statement from the Heart?