When I began this article, I was ready to rant and rave about my frustrations with the lack of respect and recognition for our first Australians. I was prepared to present all the systemic barriers preventing the noble and courageous step of developing a treaty. I really wanted to share my dismay and despair. And then, just in time, I was blessed to begin reading the book Active Hope. I realised that as much as I desired a treaty (and all it symbolises), all I was doing was exhibiting ‘passive hope’ which is waiting for others, namely governments to make this happen. To truly get closer to a treaty I needed to switch my energies to ‘active hope’ which is a practice of making personal change to bring about what I so desperately seek.
I guess you could say active hope is the shortcut description of Ghandi’s famous saying
“be the change you wish to see in the world.” According to Macey and Johnstone it involves three steps:
1. Taking a clear view of reality
2. Identify what we are hoping for
3. Taking steps to move ourselves and our situation in that direction.
So here is my a personal version of Active Hope for a treaty.
1. The Clear View of Reality
There are many elements of the current situation in Australia the create despair and despondency. However, we must be open about the reality in which we are operating if we are to take wise actions for change. Here are some of the factors that in my mind are holding back the development of a treaty:
· The government is invested in maintaining the status quo. This means the focus will continue to be on economic growth, and that land will continue to be seen as a commodity to be traded for the pursuit of economic prosperity. There will be great fear and caution around advancing a treaty that may threaten the economic future of the nation. For me this concern will be an even greater hurdle with a Coalition government. It has been shown that there is a much smaller majority of coalition voters who support recognition (52% as compared to 68% of Labor voters and 75% of Green voters).
· This is an issue of spiritualism v materialism (and hint — materialism is winning). As outlined in the Uluru Statement, the sovereignty that is being sought to be recognised in a treaty is ‘a spiritual notion’. It is the desire to have acknowledged the sacred link that the first Australians have with the land since time immemorial. However, it appears that as descendants of the settlers, we have chosen to pursue consumption and ‘civilisation’ over love of the land. In doing so, we have lost the connection to what makes us human and unites us. We have become disconnected from our true spirit — our own spiritual nature and being part of something bigger than ourselves. We live largely in urban environments that are proven to create mental discomfort and fear. Acknowledging the spiritual connection that aboriginal people have with the land is at the same time admitting that there is something we don’t have. No-one likes admitting a deficiency!
· Our leaders are not mature enough to distinguish guilt from regret. Guilt is a negative force that represses healing and creates separation. Instead, regret is a mature approach which recognises the hurt caused and enacts remedies to right the wrongs. In this litigious society it is feared that any admission of guilt will result in financial loss for the current owners and governments. But what if we took the adult path of regret instead?
· A treaty will cause much pain. If we do move forward with a treaty, then it calls on each of us to acknowledge that our ancestors did more than just take land, they also broke a spiritual connection and a fundamental pillar of wellbeing for the first Australians. The dispossession of land is horrible. The removal of children from their families is horrific. But when you come to understand the spiritual rift that this created for the first Australians there is no other response but great grief. I do wonder how Scott Morrison would feel if he was told he could no longer practice his faith? What if his places of worship were desecrated and any form of prayer was banned?
And yet, there is another side of the coin. The reality we face is that there are already many states and territories that are taking great strides towards the acknowledgement and relationship building that needs to underly an effective treaty. In Queensland there is a statement of commitment and a Path to Treaty to create a new future between First Nations peoples and all Queenslanders. Mind you, what we have seen lately is a commitment made to the First Nations’ people with one hand, while signing over approval for another commercial coal mine with the other.
There is also wide support across the nation for formal recognition and a treaty. In a poll conducted in 2019, 70% of respondents supported constitutional recognition, and 66% supported the First Nations voice to parliament. There was also majority support (59%) for a treaty. So the reality is, if a referendum was held today, it is likely that there would be enough support to force action. This is the reality upon which my active hope is founded.
2. What We are Hoping For
The Uluru Statement sets the scene for what our First Nations’ people are hoping for. This is:
A voice — having a permanent institution which can express First Nations views in the parliament. Under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples First Nations’ people have a right to self-determination. However at only 3% of the population this is nearly impossible to achieve through the normal democratic processes. The Voice to Parliament will allow direct input to the parliament and government on all issues affecting our first Australians. When you think about it, our First Nations’ people took care of the country for around 60,000 years before the first settlers, so why shouldn’t they continue to have a say in how it is taken care of into the future?
A treaty — A treaty would be a formal agreement entered into by the First Nation’s people and the Australian government. But more than that it would create a path for peace and healing through formal recognition of rights and injustices. It would be legally binding and formally recognise Indigenous people’s prior occupation of this land and their spiritual connection to it.
The truth — The Uluru Statement called for a Makarrata Commission to develop the processes by which all Australians can come to understand the true history of this country. It is only through knowledge of the full extent of the injustices experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that we can begin to accept our shared history and thus create a shared future.
I would love to see the first Australians get each and every one of these things. It is right and it is just. The vision I have for voice, treaty and truth is not only recognition of the suffering, but also the recognition of the great wisdom and beauty of the aboriginal culture. I would be thrilled to see an open pride for their spiritual connection to and stewardship of this country. Even more I would like to see our leaders genuinely recognising this wisdom and embrace it. We have seen some shifts in this direction with the aboriginal wisdom around fire being used to protect the land from the ravages of bush fire. But we can do more than this. We can embrace our first Australians and their spirit. We can celebrate each other’s strengths and bring our nation together to heal relationships, but also help us to discover our lost connection to the earth. Together we can forge a path to bring love and care back to our country and our home.
3. Steps To Move Myself In That Direction
So, ultimately the only things I have any control over are my own actions. And this is the core of active hope — determining what I need to do differently to bring about an embedded respect for and inclusion of our First Nations’ people. How do I need to change to be able to support this whole-heartedly? Here is what I will be doing differently as of today:
· I will use my voice to strengthen the already amazing communities that exist to drive change — speaking up for my vision and the dream of our First Nations’ people whenever and wherever I have a chance.
· I can maintain self-awareness to ensure my voice is coming from a place of openness and heart, not of judgement and ego.
· I will develop the courage to share my opinions, ask questions and challenge myself to learn and grow my authentic voice. I have long hesitated thinking that I don’t know enough to contribute. And yet, I know my own heart, I know my vision, and this is enough to begin to play my part in a new future. This is the beginning of a process of widening my knowledge, my networks and my perspective so that I can contribute even more.
Instead of judging from the sidelines, I will find out how I can participate, and get actively involved in supporting the great work already being undertaken. I can make sure I sign the petitions, stay up to date with the actions underway and get involved in the conversations.
The first Australians have the word gulba-ngi-dyili-nya which means to know and understand yourself, to be at peace with yourself. For me, this is the purpose of the work I need to do around truth. This will involve:
· Acknowledging my settler ancestry and the role my ancestors may have played in dispossessing and disconnecting the First Nations’ people from their spiritual home. I need to acknowledge the role my forebears played in causing personal injury, inculcating racism and the destruction of aboriginal culture. I need to acknowledge the passive role other ancestors played in the injustices through apathy and lack of assistance for the first stewards of their land.
· Offering gratitude to my ancestors for the life they have provided for me today, while, at the same time, honouring the pain upon which my prosperity has been founded. Recognising that the pain and suffering caused to others will have left scars on generations of our family, and that this is something I must understand and come to peace with for myself. Only then can we meet in a place of mutual respect and compassion.
· Offering gratitude to the First Nations’ people who have been with and cared for this land, and the dedication they bring to preserving its health and spirit.
Change Begins With Each of Us
As I look again through this list of things, I will be doing to enact active hope, it does not seem enough. And yes, if it was just me doing this, it would not be enough. But what if the full 77% of the population who support constitutional recognition did the same things? What if the 59% of the population who support a treaty take the same actions? The result would be incredible and positive change. However, the change needs to begin with each of us individually.
It’s Time For Healing
The first Australians have a spiritual connection to this country that has sustained them and the land for over 60,000 years. Either our ancestors did not understand this, or they did not care. Regardless, the outcome is the same. The spiritual disconnect of our ancestors is at the heart of the suffering of our First Nations’ people and is being manifest right now in the pain of the planet. We have almost destroyed the custodians of this great land and look at the result. It is time to raise them back up , heal our relationships and heal this land.
 Macy, J., & Johnstone, C. (2012). Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy (58069th ed.). New World Library.
 Murphy, K. (2019, August 1). Essential poll: majority of Australians want Indigenous recognition and voice to parliament. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2019/jul/12/essential-poll-majority-of-australians-want-indigenous-recognition-and-voice-to-parliament
 Yolgnu word meaning ‘a coming together after a struggle’