In the last few decades, Aborigines have won freedoms long denied to them. The paternal hands of church and state have largely been removed from their lives. They now have to build a new life out of the ruins of dispossession, and with the full rights and duties of Australian citizenship. Although they are no longer strangers in their own land, their land is not the same as it was. It is immensely more bountiful and it is owned by the whole nation.
This Backgrounder takes a critical look at the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation’s Draft Document. The Document seeks to place the relationship between Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders and the wider community on a new and more equitable footing. But the Council’s approach is unlikely to bring about its commendable vision of ‘a united Australia which respects this land of ours; values the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage; and provides justice and equity for all’.
The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation wants Aborigines to have a unique status and the freedom to determine their own destinies somewhat comparable to the freedom they possessed before European settlement. Some aspects of the strategy of self-determination, however, may not help Aboriginal people at all, some may be unacceptable to the nation as a whole, and some may simply invite a new paternalism. If Aborigines are to recover from their long period of suffering, they may have to accept that while governments can place tools in their hands, governments cannot live their lives for them.