What is reconciliation?

It’s National Reconciliation Week – a time for all Australians to learn about and acknowledge our shared histories, celebrate cultures and achievements and to explore how each of us can join the national reconciliation journey.

We asked our Indigenous Rights Team, past and present, what reconciliation means to them.

Tammy Solonec, Indigenous Rights Manager, Perth

Tammy Solonec, Indigenous Rights Campaign Manager
Tammy Solonec, Indigenous Rights Campaign Manager

I am a Nigena woman from Derby in the Kimberley of Western Australia and I grew up in regional and remote WA before settling in Perth.

To me reconciliation is when two parties come together to reconcile on an issue. The issue here, the treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people since colonisation is a deep wound that will take many years and concerted effort to heal.

Sometimes this is hard for Aboriginal people because we are a minority, so we are constantly called on to be part of the reconciliation, whereas for non-Indigenous people they can easily not participate at all. That said, the reconciliation movement has created moments of great pride for Australia, like the bridge walks in 2000, and on an organisational level reconciliation action plans are making a real difference for Aboriginal people and the broader community. I hope that one day we can be fully reconciled as people, but I know there is still a long way to go.

Amnesty International’s strong commitment to the human rights of Indigenous people and communities in Australia is extremely valuable to reconciliation. In addition to giving high priority to a domestic campaign that seeks to end the overrepresentation of Indigenous kids in the justice system, through Amnesty International’s RAP our staff are trained in cultural competency, our staff are cultured into respecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities such as through our acknowledgement of country in internal meetings, and welcome to country for public events. Our staff’s activities are measured through performance plans and Amnesty International supports Indigenous businesses such as through Supply Nation.

Rodney Dillon, Indigenous Rights Advisor, Hobart

Rodney Dillon, Indigenous Rights Adviser
Rodney Dillon, Indigenous Rights Adviser

I’m an Aboriginal man from Tasmania. I have worked at Amnesty for the past eight years.

Reconciliation to me means when we have equity – in indicators like life expectancy, interaction with the justice system, and compensation for stolen generations and stolen wages. I don’t know that we will ever be reconciled because of the deep impact of colonisation, it will take generations to heal. We’ve still got miles to go. I think as well as leveling the social indicators, a Treaty would be a good step forward.

Reconciliation is everyone working together for the same cause, and we’ve still got some work to do on this.

Amnesty International’s work to stop kids going into prison and out of home care is really important in moving towards reconciliation. We can see windows of opportunity like we are seeing in Bourke that we can grasp and take forward.

Amnesty International’s RAP helps the organisation understand better about what it means to be Aboriginal. These are all positive steps and that is the exciting part about it. Many of our staff members are wanting to make change and the RAP supports this.

Having an Aboriginal person on our Board is a great move towards reconciliation at the highest level of our organisation.

Bettina King, Indigenous Rights Campaigner

A woman and young girl smiling into the camera. A piece of Aboriginal art hangs on the wall behind them.
Bettina King, Indigenous Rights Campaigner

My name is Njmarra which means water lily in my Father’s language; I am a strong saltwater woman from the Narungga (South Australia) and Duranbul (Queensland) nations. I have travelled a long journey to find myself as an Aboriginal woman so the theme of Reconciliation Week – Don’t Keep History a Mystery – really speaks to me.

As a child I was separated from my family so my personal history and the history of taking Aboriginal children from their families has shaped who I am today. It has shaped the kind of work I’ve done professionally and it has also shaped how I raise my children.

Now that I know who I am and where I’m from, I’m comfortable in my skin and as I raise my children I tell them that they should be proud of who they are. I tell them, ‘You have a right to stand on this earth because it’s your Mother and it created you’. I say, ‘You belong here on this land’.
I used to get angry about what happened to me. Being taken from my Mother, I was an Aboriginal girl growing up in a non-Aboriginal family. When I experienced racism there was no one in my world who could possibly understand my feelings and how hurt I was.

When the Government started to talk about ‘Reconciliation’ I was very skeptical because I felt – why do I need to reconcile with non-Indigenous people? What have I done? It just didn’t make sense to me. But now I see how Reconciliation is about developing good relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people – equal partnerships where we all try to address some of the social and economic disadvantage of Indigenous people.

I have been an advocate for Indigenous children and young people in out of home care for many years. I’ve used the fire in my belly to improve the lives of my people. It is my life’s work.

But I haven’t done this alone.

None of us can work alone.

We need people with all sorts of skills, knowledge and backgrounds to help us orchestrate change in the world. We need people – both Indigenous and non-Indigenous – so we can pool our resources, learn from each other and put our minds together and be powerful together.

I believe Reconciliation needs to be a process of metamorphosis – just like the cocoon that turns into a beautiful butterfly. There are stages to its growth.

Over the years, Aboriginal staff in a workplace would put on bush tucker or Aboriginal dances for the non-Indigenous staff and everyone would feel happy. These morning teas and BBQ’s only scratched the surface. This was the cocoon.

It is now time for the butterfly to emerge and to fly – except that there will be many butterflies which represent the many generations to come.

Indigenous people need to be able to talk about the uncomfortable issues and have an understanding, open and comfortable space in which to do it. That is Reconciliation. We need to know that non-Indigenous people are listening to us; that they are walking on an equal footing to get justice with us, that they will fight with us for equality and positive change and that their hearts and minds are open to hear our history and our present. Just like butterflies, we are all different, we are all different colors. But we can all fly. Reconciliation is about us flying together. That is Reconciliation to me.

Roxanne Moore, former Amnesty Indigenous Rights Campaigner, Melbourne

I am a Noongar woman from the South West of Western Australia. I grew up in Margaret River, lived in Perth for many years, and am now based in Melbourne.

Reconciliation to me means all Australians taking ownership of our joint history – the good, the bad, the ugly – but moving forward together by healing and rectifying those past injustices.

Recognition and understanding of our past is the first step – both sides understanding the other, teaching our kids in school both sides of the truth. Once Australians accept that, it’s clear that – regardless of who was responsible in the past – we all have a responsibility to bring Indigenous people up to the level of equality, so that all kids in Australia are born equal, with the same rights and opportunities and life expectancy.

Another part of it is recognising our privilege and prejudices – all of us. We all have them, but it’s about being honest with ourselves when we are making a judgment or a decision about how those prejudices or racism is influencing us, and if it is – catching yourself and correcting that. If we offend or upset someone based on their race, even if we didn’t intend to, saying sorry and meaning it.

Reconciliation also requires justice. Part of healing is about rectifying past injustices – whether that’s through compensation or apology or other means.

Amnesty International’s RAP gets us closer to reconciliation by teaching staff and volunteers about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives on history and our fight for justice over the years.

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