Features

Guest Editor Emma Garlett On Progress To Reconciliation—This Reconciliation Week And Beyond

By Emma Garlett

Emma Garlett is a First Nations leader who is a Director at Garlett Group, a boutique sustainability and communications firm which helps businesses, government and not-for-profits engage and work with Indigenous people and communities effectively. She holds and has held roles in the private sector, minerals industry, legal services and academia. Previously, Emma practised as a solicitor at a top-tier law firm.

When you think of significant Australian dates to mark in your calendar, what comes to mind may be Christmas, Easter or Labour Day. Any holiday which gives you a day off is a day that one recalls when thinking about the calendar year—and how to leverage your annual leave to have the most days off in a row, while using the smallest amount of annual leave. 

But one of the most significant dates you should mark in your calendar is Reconciliation Week which was launched 28 years ago, and has the same dates each year—the 27th of May to 3rd of June. 

Although the date remains the same year after year, the theme changes to focus our attention on areas of importance in the current political agenda, business trends and Indigenous aspirations. This year’s National Reconciliation Week theme is Now More Than Ever. 

The week marks significant events in the Indigenous calendar, with the 27th of May 1967 marking the date of the successful Australian referendum that gave the Australian Government power to make laws for Indigenous people and include us in the Census. While the 3rd of June is Mabo day, the date when the High Court of Australia delivered the Mabo decision which affirmed that Australia was not ‘terra nullius’—Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been here all along, and the land did indeed have traditional owners long before occupation.

Many Indigenous elders say that we, the Indigenous people have nothing to reconcile because by definition the word, reconciliation means to restore friendly relations. When in fact, Australia’s difficult history shows that unequivocally, there were no friendly relations to begin with. Some prefer an alternative definition as to the way we see reconciliation—which is sharing our views in two-way learning to develop understanding with each other. 

Last year's failed Voice to Parliament referendum means we have not achieved reconciliation. But it leaves opportunity to continue the journey. 

Some people ask me “when we will achieve reconciliation?” And how do we measure progress? 

We will achieve reconciliation when the majority of Australians walk with us. We will achieve reconciliation when we don’t have a gap to close in education and health outcomes. We will achieve reconciliation when racism is not a normal occurrence. The more people on board doing deeds and not just sharing words will mean the timeline to reaching our goal will shorten. 

To put it lightly, to progress reconciliation, it will require action from all people in all areas. We want to ensure we make progress rather than taking steps backwards. 

We have a week to celebrate Reconciliation Week, maybe in the future one of those days can turn into a public holiday for all Australians when we reach a point where we feel we have made progress to reconciliation and when most Australians walk together with us on this journey. 

Image credit: Emma Garlett | supplied

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