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Indigenous Sovereignty

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One rainy day, we shut down the World Economic Forum.

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Recent article on Melbourne indymedia:

Some links to ngarrindjeri organisations: one, two, three, four, Australia Change

Article by Neville "Chappy" Williams in the Canberra Times :

The Canberra Times - Monday, 28 February 2005

Aborigines will not cross that black line

by Neville Williams

[ Neville Williams is a Wiradjuri Elder and has had long involvement with the Tent Embassy. ]

THE ABORIGINAL people wouldn't be where they are today without the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. Without it, we'd be even worse off than we were. The Embassy is more relevant today than ever before.

In many parts of Australia our people are living in appalling conditions. They don't have adequate housing or water supplies. All over Australia, many of our people are sick and dying of preventable diseases like diabetes, heart disease, alcoholism and drug dependency. Our people also have hearing and sight problems and a host of other ailments. Our people need improved living conditions and more educational programs. But most of all we need our land back so we have an economic base from which to start rebuilding our shattered lives.

The Embassy is on Wiradjuri land, and that's why so many Wiradjuri people come here. The people who call themselves "Ngunnawal" are in fact Wiradjuri - we are all the one people. The site of the Embassy was an Aboriginal meeting place long before Europeans came to Canberra. There is very special heritage and spirit here. Some of the trees that have been destroyed by fire were planted in memory of Aboriginal activists from the Embassy, who have passed on in the struggle.

One of the fires, in memory of the late Kevin Gilbert, Wiradjuri activist, poet and playwright, contains some of his ashes.

When Old Parliament House was opened on May 9, 1927, at least two Wiradjuri tribal men, Jimmy Clements and John Noble, walked all the way from Brungle Mission near Tumut, in NSW, to protest. Jimmy Clements was recorded in The Argus of May 10 1927 as "claiming his sovereign rights to the Federal Territory." The Aboriginal Tent Embassy stand right near where these men were protesting in 1927.

The embassy is the first recorded Aboriginal protest site in Australia. We must keep the fight going in honour of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Our ancient heritage goes back at least 60,000 years, yet it continues to be damaged and destroyed by unnecessary development projects like the cyanide leach gold mine under construction at our sacred Lake Cowal in the Wiradjuri heartland. It is an internationally and nationally important wetland - the habitat for migratory birds and threatened species. It is also a burial site for many of our people. We know a massacre occurred there. The Embassy is continuing the fight to save Lake Cowal.

The killing of our people and the genocide hasn't stopped as evidence of deaths such as those of 16 year-old T.J. Hickey in Redfern and deaths in custody like that of Kumanjai Doomadgee at Palm Island in Queensland.

Genocide isn't just deliberately killing people to get rid of them, it also involves the killing of our culture. The Government wants to run the Embassy protest site. We've had at least three education centres at the Embassy but they have been either fire-bombed by persons unknown or removed by authorities. An information centre and a tent museum were fire- bombed in the middle of the night, putting Embassy residents at risk. Seventy police came to remove the A-frame that was a replacement information centre. All of these structures included important information about the history and purpose of the Embassy. A lot of it was irreplaceable.

We're constantly under surveillance at the Embassy. We've applied under FOI for a copy of the videos taken when fires were set there, but our request has been denied. Any attack on the Embassy is an attack on every Aboriginal person.

The authorities keep on trying to put out our sacred fires, including our Fire for Peace and Justice which is just as important to us as the eternal flame at the Australian War Memorial is to Australians whose relatives have died in wars. They include many Aboriginal people who fought to save this country. No-one would ever dream of extinguishing the eternal flame at the Australian War Memorial, yet there is no sensitivity about putting out our sacred fires which have been part of our religion for thousands of years.

Just imagine what a hue and cry there would be if the Government wanted to pull down one of the Houses of Parliament and only decided to consult with the people of Canberra about it. The Embassy is a nationally significant place and there are people all over this country, including our non-Aboriginal supporters, who have a stake in it.

There are people who are sent in to cause trouble at the Embassy. People who want to assimilate and cross the Black Line, they can do so, but when they cross the Black Line they can't speak on or act on Aboriginal issues.

I've been living Black all my life. I won't assimilate, but I want positive change for Aboriginal people. We need a national grassroots Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander body. And we need to run our own affairs.

If the Government wants to reconcile with us, then the first step is to say "sorry."

But there's no point in just turning up at the Embassy to see who is there. Many Aboriginal people associated with the Embassy don't actually live here, but come to visit from time to time on days like Invasion/Survival Day on January 26.

Territories Minister Jim Lloyd doesn't need a consultant to talk to us. What's needed is a national meeting, abut the Embassy, of grassroots Elders and community people from across Australia. And it is up to us to invite the government to meet with us on our terms. We have to make it for our children to show them where we stand.

Aboriginal Sovereignty over Australia has never been ceded by invasion or time.

-- Neville ["Chappy"] Williams is a Wiradjuri Elder and has had long involvement with the Tent Embassy.

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