Reviewing 10 years of government oppression of Aborigines – the pain continues

Ten years of Intervention

Aboriginal people resisting 10 years of government oppression in the Northern Territory of Australia have had a three-day conference in Mbantua (the Aboriginal name for Alice Springs). The “StandUp2017” gathering on the effects over the last 10 years of the Northern Territory Intervention – initially an army and police invasion of Aboriginal communities – is hearing from speakers from affected communities and across housing, community governance, education, justice, income management, stolen children and treaty issues. The conference was hosted by the Mbantua based Intervention Rollback Action Group. This post contains excerpts of talks and videod messages of support:


Ngarla and Rosalie Kunoth Monks from Utopia: "Mal Brough [the minister for Aboriginal affairs at the time] rode roughshod over us, backed by the army and police. The full nightmare.  Let’s stand together, don’t let the corrupt monetary system separate us. We are one people, right from Tasmania, right up to the islands up north, we are one people. We are not going to be separated. We stand united, and when we say united we take away the trauma form our littles under us, don’t lip service and do nothing about it. No white person will try take over our school in Utopia, no one. I will not be bought by anyone.” 



Veronica and Pamela Lynch, Arrernte women, on the land rights fight for her homeland Black Tank, lack of resources, self-determination and the Intervention: "White man’s law changes all the time, ours don't. We moved onto a camp site onto pastoral lease, the council wanted to take us to court, we said no we want to stay on our country. We won. They did a handover at the time. Two families got their land back and as a family group we instigated resource centre to help out people on their home land. But since the intervention we have no voice and they don’t listen to us and have rights, the intervention is a rulebook regulated by ORIC [the highly controversial Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations]. They don’t respect our people, people on the ground. They believe in directors but we don’t believe in directors. Those directors don’t speak up for us.”


Vanessa Poulson, Pitinjarra woman, Yuendumu roots, president of Karnte Camp, on the importance of self-governance for town camps and the importance of children:  “My mother’s side has lived here for long time. I’m 34, have four kids, I am single and have raised them up for myself. When I think about the last two years, police arresting, more fines, more people locked up and no second chance, and kids don’t go to school because it is scary. Their people they don’t speak their language, and then family get fined and welfare taking more and more kids, and not looking after that family side. Taking kids away doesn’t work and takes a long time. And is no use. It happens a lot in town camps, welfare taking their kids.” 

Matthew Ryan & Barbara Shaw from NT Aboriginal Housing Body on the need for affordable housing and "We want to control our own destiny": “Our kids are missing out on education, people say health and education. No it’s the foundation first. Get the housing. We want proper housing! Listen here, stop making decisions on behalf of us. Not you. We should have the first say not them. We come up with an idea and then they make up another idea and then scrap up our idea. Because of money? Always dictating.”

Greens Senator Rachel Siewert on income management (government dictate on how Aboriginal people can spend their welfare benefit):There was no evidence for income management. We found out that people were not able to give evidence to talk to members of the committee who wanted to listen. And community assets were taken away and it quarantined 50% of people’s income support. Tangentyere were already doing income management for communities making savings. When Basics Cards were first brought in there was no plan to evaluate. No international evidence to show, the evidence we did see with Aboriginal experts said it wasn’t going to work. It was demonising, vilifying and demonising.” 

Sharon Anderson, Warlpiri woman, teacher, Lajamanu, on education: “Warlpiri teachers believe children are happier learning in their own language. In the Warlpari region trying to teach bilingual in 1982, we want to try keep bilingual education programs. To do this we need to try get people to understand. We need skills teacher linguists and teachers of English as a second language. Yapa leadership. Real honest power sharing and enough resources. We believe that our children in their first language more confident in themselves and learn more efficiently. We have seen with our own eyes to speak, sing, read in the mother tongue. And strong in Warlpari and English. 

“We know that bilingual education is an important way for families and schools and children to learn first and second language and culture. First language doesn’t just make us strong. We have the right under the declaration of Indigenous Human Rights. Make sure you tell them to be equal with us. The government wants us to learn white people to learn but two way learning’s form yapa and kardiya.” 

Valerie Patterson: "In the 70s in Lajamanu we learnt in Warlpiri. Now we have been cut to 1 hr a day. It is not enough. We do cultural things, with old people every Friday, spears, humpies. We got one camp coming up and tell kids the dreamings, and it’s really good. After that we make books for literacy centre. ‘Going out camping’ title of one book.”  

Doreen McCormack: "These kids [being placed into non-Aboriginal foster families] are going to grow up not knowing their language, not knowing their family." 


Vince Forrester: "Uluru brings in $5 million a year to the economy yet at Mutitjulu at the base there is very little involvement in the tourism industry. But the theft of cultural properties is happening there. And the theft of children."  

Mark Yingiya Guyula, Independent Aboriginal member of the Northern Territory parliament: "Parents around Yirrkala had about nine children taken away. I went and spoke with the Minister for Territory families. I've taken them home now. They've broken the 3 steps law. 1. The child needs to go to next of kin. 2. the child goes to another family within the community. 3. the child goes to another community. If it fails then they could go to foster families. But it never fails - we have big families, big mob. But they've been taking children straight and giving them to foster families in Darwin...Ten years ago there was only about 200 children taken away. Since the Intervention came through it has risen to over 900 children in Territory families care. 

"We want jurisdiction that is without interference from colonial governments...We say the Yolngu people have not been defeated, we kept the pastoralists out, we still have our land, language and systems of education and our own complete system of law. We have not made any agreements to give our land away or be subject to any other law. That means we still have nationhood and view ourselves as independent."  

Elizabeth Jarrett: "There's no bigger crime than to steal someone's children...How many of our babies are lost in the system? What we need is safe spaces for our Aunties and sisters to have babies. 

Dylan Voller: "If you're indigenous you don't get as much support inside the system. We need more cultural programs and for people to stay close to family. There's no support for people when they exit the system either."  

Vickie Lee Roach: "I went through the system 40 years ago and I thought it was bad for us. How can they just have a Royal Commission now and they're only talking about the Northern Territory. It's happening all over the country. This Royal Commission should have been country wide, they're doing this to children everywhere." 

Nova Peris, Indigenous former athlete and Senator, sent this message via Dylan Voller, a teenager horribly mistreated in a Darwin jail, to be read to the conference: “We as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people need to stand together in solidarity. The Northern Territory Intervention was seen by many, particularly those living on community, as an act of “war” declared by the Australian government on Aboriginal people. We do not need constitutional recognition in an English founding document, we have never been lost. Eddie Mabo took on the High Court for ten years to prove our inherited responsibilities of over 50,000 years and to disregard the lie of a Terra Nullius [land without people]. The Northern Territory Intervention was partly about a land grab under the guise of other things that demonized us all as a race of First Nations people. We, as Aboriginal people are much more powerful than what the powers that be want us to believe. 

"We are sovereign people, our power is beyond measure, we need to understand this and use it to our advantage. As Vincent Lingiari once said, “power and privilege cannot move the people who know where they stand, stand in the law.” As sovereign people we need to start wielding and asserting our constitutional 116A power of religious and spiritual freedom, which we have sustained for over 50,000 years. 

Thalia Tane, talking about the treaty settlement process in Aotearoa (New Zealand): "Pre-colonisation we were a very sustainable society. By the 1800s the pakeha came. They were coming in droves and starting to occupy our lands. Our chiefs were worried they were becoming unruly...In 1840 we signed the treaty of Waitangi. The chiefs were worried we would be outnumbered and out-gunned. When we signed the treaty we had two. One was in English and one was in Maori. Most of the chiefs signed the one in Maori - it shows we never ceded our sovereignty... It was about peace. As soon as the treaty was signed it was breached!"