Education crucial leading up to Indigenous Voice vote, advocates say
First Nations advocates say students must learn about the nation’s past to make an informed decision at the upcoming Voice to Parliament referendum. With much of Indigenous history ignored, experts fear the public may be voting misinformed about the Voice’s purpose, Peter Hyslop reports.
The University of Newcastle’s Looking Ahead events aim to educate students and the public about the Voice, as prominent opponent Tony Abbott slams proposed constitutional amendments saying it would leave the nation “divided”.
Among those featured in the University’s campaign, Pro bono solicitor and advocate Kishaya Delaney, and globally recognised researcher and author, Emeritus Professor John Maynard.
Maynard says students need to understand the push to establish a Voice goes back further than the most recent campaign.
“This was first put up a hundred years ago. So, people in their sense of voting for the Voice need to know this is not some new thing that was just dreamt up with the Uluru Statement, it’s been a long fight for Aboriginal activists, and they need to be aware of it,” he said.
Maynard says Australians must confront the difficult past to partner with First Nations people.
“People need to know the history of what has happened in this country. And it’s not just Aboriginal politics, [it’s] Aboriginal servicemen, the Frontier Wars, there’s so many things as part of this history.
It’s not about making people guilty, it’s not about that. It’s hoping that the country reaches a maturity, and to accept that Aboriginal people have gone through intergenerational trauma [which] is embedded into our community,” he said.
While the professor is optimistic about the future, he remains cautious about the federal government’s latest move.
“My pessimism sits squarely with governments and Prime Ministers because we’ve been gutted too many times in the past. So many promises over genuine self-determination, national land rights, a treaty, these are not new.”
“What we want to see is something come out the other end of these things, something genuine that we can actually kick-start and move on to a future that is just and equitable for all Australians. That’s long overdue”
For the cause of First Nations peoples’ rights and freedom, Maynard says he will vote in support of the Voice.
“There’s no way I could vote no … my own conscience wouldn’t allow me to do that. The memory of my grandfather and what he stood up for and fought for would not allow me to vote no alongside the likes of Peter Dutton, Mark Latham, Pauline Hanson, Jacinda Price and Warren Mundine,” he said.
Pro bono solicitor and advocate Kishaya Delaney will speak at the student information session on the Uluru Statement from the Heart. She says it’s important that students inform themselves about the Yes movement.
“I think there is already a lot of misinformation out there … but it’s much easier to read media articles and consume content and spot misinformation when you have a good base level understanding of what the reform is all about.”
“At this moment there’s a lot of conversations about the Voice in the media and by politicians. But I think a lot of people don’t understand or haven’t had the opportunity to really learn about whether Voice came from and how First Nations people have been calling for the Voice or similar for decades,” she said.
Delaney became interested in advocacy while studying law at the University of Newcastle, and now runs information sessions in local communities. She says growing up in the rural town of Orange encouraged her to create change.
“I think when I do the work, particularly in my hometown of Orange … it’s usually the most challenging, because it’s my own community, but it’s also the most rewarding.
“I think it is emotional when you’re hearing from people about the way things haven’t worked. And often when you run these types of sessions, particularly when we do sessions with First Nations people, they are angry and upset about the way that the relationship with the government has been in the past.
“And you have to give that space where people speak their truth,” she said.
Delaney emphasises the importance of education in the upcoming referendum and acknowledges not everyone will agree on the way forward. But she is optimistic this movement will create change.
“If communities were electing people that could speak on their behalf and the views of people at a local level were getting fed through to the highest levels of government, I’m confident that the way that the government and the Parliament approached [previous] decisions would have been very different,” she said.
Students can find out more about the Looking Ahead events here.
Feature image by Peter Hyslop, Yak Writer