4.14. Why is Truth-Telling Important?
Australia’s history has included a great deal of discrimination against its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This has resulted in decades of trauma for these communities, exacerbated by an uneven recognition from the Australian Government and the rest of Australian society. Although attempts have been made at recognition, much more work needs to be done in collaboration with First Nations people to address ongoing inequities and social and health problems. An accurate representation of the histories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people would need to be conducted through an organised, inclusive and widely respected process. It is for these reasons that a truth-telling process overseen by a Makarrata Commission has been called for to help heal the historical wounds through retelling of stories of suffering and recognition of past traumas.
In order to determine what type of reform would be most meaningful, the Referendum Council initiated a series of dialogues at Uluru. When they were asked, many delegates recounted their personal experiences of injustice — which became a truth-telling exercise in itself. It was then recognised that the kind of truth-telling that was being called for was not merely a symbolic gesture, or the statement of an isolated collective truth, but an organised and practical process that was common to, and could be shared by, many First Nations communities. It was subsequently argued that an ongoing process such as this could enable the unfolding of a complex and multifaceted history, which recounted stories not just of trauma and victimhood but of an ongoing fight against inequality that opened up new ways for community to survive. In this way, Indigenous Australians, it was claimed, could share their respective histories and the difficulties they face ‘on their own terms’.
Those arguing for the establishment of a Makarrata Commission therefore argue that it could contribute fruitfully to a healing process for First Nations people. A record of truth-telling would enable national recognition of past traumas and ongoing inequality. Additionally, dissemination of information about past grievances and discrimination could lead to a more informed public debate about how to improve the livelihoods of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. According to Gabrielle Appleby and Megan Davis, such a Commission would seek not to criticise or assert blame for past injustices but to create an official record of them and thus ensure that they are recognised and remembered. Some members of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities assert that this would help to reassert the role of First Nations as ‘an integral part of the national polity’. The Commission could also oversee the process of creating a treaty with First Nations people.