Questions and answers about the proposed First Nations Voice to Parliament

Questions and answers about the proposed First Nations Voice to Parliament

4.13.        What is Makarrata?

Makarrata is a Yolngu word naming a ritual process agreed to by hostile parties as a way of ending conflicts. Put perhaps too simply, it is ‘a coming together after struggle’.[127] 

The political use of this concept goes back to the 1970s and the formation of the Aboriginal Treaty Committee, associated with prominent white Australians such as public servant Nugget Coombes and poet Judith Wright. The concept was then taken up by the National Aboriginal Conference established by the Fraser government. The Uluru Statement from the Heart calls for a Makarrata Commission to promote reconciliation, personal healing, and justice.[128] In theory, the Makarrata Commission would also oversee a treaty-making process and aid in educating the public about Australia’s history of colonialism and its impact on First Nations peoples.[129]

In practice, a Makarrata Commission would provide advice and aid in generating a truth-telling process. The Joint Committee on Constitutional Recognition relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples was advised by the right-leaning Uphold and Recognise organisation[130] on the following specific functions the Commission might carry out:

  • recording the history of Indigenous peoples
  • preserving the culture of Indigenous peoples
  • empowering Indigenous peoples to take responsibility for their communities
  • creating commercial opportunities for Indigenous people
  • concluding agreements between governments and Indigenous peoples that address the four criteria above.[131]

The reasons given for forming a Makarrata Commission include the current lack of accurate and effective truth-telling practices. Though efforts have in the past been made to communicate the experiences and histories of Aboriginal and First Nations people, these have typically been ‘ad hoc and piecemeal’.[132] Education about First Nations people’s experiences in Australian schools is limited and inconsistent. This reflects a ‘disaffection, disinterest and denial’ of these experiences from the general public, which a Makarrata Commission would seek to mitigate.[133]

The recommendation to establish a Makarrata Commission reflects the desires of a significant number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. During the dialogues conducted at Uluru to determine which reforms would benefit, and be meaningful for, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, delegates indicated that it was important for Australians to hear and understand their experiences. Delegates also rejected the idea of symbolic recognition; Makarrata would have to result in practical and tangible change.[134]

Continue readingExcerpts 5.13.

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