The colonization of our lands and lives began with English invasion in 1788. It was an unprovoked and undeclared war that pitted one nation against another nation. 226 years later, that war continues with the Australian colony comfortably playing host to the annual G20 summit.
From Abbott to Obama, leaders of the world’s major economies will meet in Brisbane this November to discuss and determine the global economic agenda. These twenty nation states are responsible for the genocide and dispossession of Indigenous peoples the world over.
Thousands of Aboriginal people converged on Brisbane in 1982 to protest the Stolenwealth Games. Demonstrators demanded recognition of Aboriginal land rights and the abolition of Queensland’s apartheid Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders Act. Chants of ‘Land Rights Now’ and ‘Smash the Act’ in Brisbane’s city streets echoed across the continent and around the globe. The whole world was watching.
32 years on from this landmark in the Aboriginal struggle, the G20 summit presents another opportunity for us to have our voices heard on the world stage. Aboriginal people from across the continent will converge on Brisbane to protest this meeting of world leaders. Why? This question finds its roots in our fundamental rights and responsibilities as the Indigenous people of the land they now call ‘Australia’. Our nationalism is the assertion of these rights and responsibilities.
Bloodline connection to country gives us the inalienable right to our traditional territories, to political independence, and to maintain our cultures against assimilation. We have the right to land, life and liberty. But rights are nothing without responsibilities. Our responsibilities as Indigenous people are based in protecting and upholding the two most important relationships that exist – our relationship with land and the relationship we have with each other. Our ability to exercise these rights and fulfil these responsibilities is suppressed by another nation, a colonial nation, the Australian nation.
Are we Australians? Are we members of a nation built upon the dispossession and bloodshed of our ancestors, the theft of Aboriginal land and the genocide of Aboriginal people? Which rights and responsibilities are core to the Australian identity? The Australian government claims citizenship is “an ongoing commitment to Australia and all that this country stands for”. Australian citizens are obliged to:
Australian citizens have the ‘privilege’ of:
So what does this mean for Aboriginal people who embrace Australian citizenship? You accept the confines of a legal system that systematically discriminates against your family and community on a daily basis. Under threat of $170 fines and criminal convictions, you participate in elections dominated by two parties whose policies are one and the same in the oppression of Aboriginal people. You pledge your allegiance to fight in defence of a nation with a longstanding military tradition of subjugating Aboriginal people – from the frontier war violence to the Northern Territory ‘Intervention’ (2007) when the federal government deployed 600 soldiers in the Northern Territory to enforce apartheid law on Aboriginal communities.
As well as purporting to stand up for equality, the Australian state claims to champion freedom of speech, expression, association, religion and secular government – liberal ideals serving only the interests of wealthy Whites with power and privilege. Whether it was the vote (1962) or being counted in the census (1967), chasing White equality in the civil rights agenda has done virtually nothing for Aboriginal people. We linger in a state of fourth worldness – a third world people living under the yoke of a first world nation, a nation that continues to deny us the right to determine our own futures in our own lands.
Aboriginal people are incarcerated at five times the rate of Blacks under apartheid in South Africa, Australia leads the world in linguicide, and our life expectancy is still more than 10 years below that of Australians. The mining industry wreaks havoc on our lands and waters under the guise of “economic development” while John Howard’s racially discriminatory intervention into the Northern Territory has been extended for another decade. And we have no genuine representation inside or external to the powerful institutions of the Australian state.
The best the Australian government wants is for you to be allowed to sit at their table, to learn to do as they do and abide by their rules. You will identify with a flag drenched in the blood and suffering of your ancestors. You will call the colonial nation’s Constitution your own, a document which excluded your people from the outset. You will commemorate and glorify the sacrifice of Australian soldiers who fought in foreign wars while the sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of Aboriginal warriors defending our lands from British invasion goes untold. You will sing an anthem which celebrates 226 years of violent colonization and makes no mention of your people’s rich history since the first sunrise.
Like everybody else on this planet, we as Aboriginal people have the right to determine our political status. We can identify in whatever way we see fit. We have the right to embrace Australian citizenship, to capitulate. The question we must ask ourselves is whether we are content to exist as just another ethnic minority group assimilating into the body politic of a colonial state. We have long been conditioned and coerced into accepting our “special but not separate place” in John Howard’s “reconciled and indivisible” Australia.
Come the 15th and 16th of November, Prime Minister Tony Abbott will be representing Australia at the G20 summit. But he won’t represent me. Because I’m not Australian, and I’ll never be Australian. I’m Nganyaywana, and I’ll always be Nganyaywana.
What happened to the days of freedom and independence? Did we consent to this colonial occupation, to the unyielding assault on our lands, lives and liberties? The question of nationalism is the fundamental question of the Aboriginal struggle. What will be our message to oppressed peoples around the world when we flood Brisbane’s city streets with red, black and yellow? Fight the ongoing colonization of our lands and lives. Revive that which underpinned our societies prior to colonization.
Resist. Reconstruct. Decolonize.
We’ll protest the #Genocidal20 for the same reason Pemulwuy fought the British, the same reason the Aboriginal Embassy was established on the Australian government’s doorstep in 1972, and the same reason we protest Australia’s celebration of invasion on the 26th of January every year. Because we refuse to be treated as aliens in our own lands, and because the only justice we will get is the justice we take. Belonging to a nation is about rights and responsibilities, and nations must fight for their self-determination.
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