TORRES STRAIT ISLANDS RECONCILIATION WRAP-UP
by Queensland correspondent Ian Watson
IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF MABO
The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation kicked off a week of consultations in the Torres Strait with a meeting at the Murray Island Community Hall.
The significance of beginning the consultations on the island that had been the launching stage for native title in Australia did not go unnoticed. Councillor Meb Salee said the fact Meriam people could stand on their own land has set an example for the rest of Indigenous Australia.
'Native title was the creator of reconciliation, with the Mabo decision of great importance to this process,' he said. 'Murray Island now has to give 100 per cent backing to this process.'
A group of around 30 community members used local knowledge and wisdom to provide comment on the Draft Document and National Strategies for Reconciliation.
The emphasis on the day was on sharing as community members and reconciliation representatives shared stories, renewed old aquaintances, and searched for the words to express the vision of a shared future for all Australians.
SAIBAI MEETING CALLS FOR RECOGNITION OF SEA RIGHTS
The inclusion of sea rights and recognition of traditional resource management in the reconciliation process was the call from community members at the Saibai consultation.
Community members gathered
at the Zara Zar outdoor shelter, and, with the blue sea as the
backdrop for the meeting, it was little wonder sea rights became
a strong focus of the discussion.
Chairperson of Saibai Island Council, Terry Waia, told the meeting that fisheries and government must respect Torres Strait Islanders' traditional practices. He said recognition of sea rights was the next step forward for government.
Mr Waia said it was essential the word 'sea' appear in the Declaration, with 'land and waters' failing to express the way Torres Strait Islanders interacted with their environment.
FUTURE BRIGHT FOR RECONCILIATION ON BADU ISLAND
The sun had long ago set over Badu Island, but the energy levels in the Community Hall showed no sign of waning.
On the registration table was a sheet of paper with a list of the names of all the families present on the island, with a tick or cross indicating whether they would be attending the meeting.
Although many community members came to the Badu Island consultation unsure about what reconciliation meant, all those present expressed interest in getting more involved in the future.
A major outcome of the meeting, as with many of the Torres Strait consultations, was a commitment by the community to form a local reconciliation group to keep the process alive on the island.
Chair of the Badu Island Council Jack AhMat encouraged the large crowd to accept the past and embrace the Draft Document for Reconciliation.
'Don't think about the past,' he said, 'let's move on.
'We've been let down in the past, but now we need to learn about the future.'
Small groups broke away from the main meeting to discuss the Draft Document in language, and at the end of a long and animated night expressed overwhelming support for its wording and contents.
ELDERS SPEAK OUT AT KUBIN MEETING
Community elders set the tone for the Kubin consultation, speaking passionately about their views on the reconciliation process.
Elder John Manas shared his
personal history with the group, telling of his own experiences
earning low wages and living in poor conditions.
Them things have to come out,' he said, 'we have to teach this to our children'.
For Mr Manas, reconciliation is something he was involved in long before the release of the Draft Document.
'It's good for the reconciliation people to come here and show us what reconciliation means,' he said.
'But we already know the meaning behind these paragraphs, we already do these things here.'
Elder Kabay Mau hoped the Draft Document would clear the way for formal recognition of Torres Strait Islander rights and culture.
Mr Mau said he had returned from his years working as a missionary in Papua New Guinea saddened his people did not own their land in the eyes of the Australian Government.
'We need to make this straight in law,' he said, 'in a constitution'.
ST PAULS COMMUNITY LENDS MEANING TO WORDS OF RECONCILIATION
In many ways the community of St Pauls is a role model for the process of reconciliation throughout Australia.
The vision of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation has been reflected by the work of the St Pauls Island Council in recent years.
Home to the largest apprentice group north of Townsville and the only fully operational State Emergency service in the Torres Strait, St Pauls has pulled together as a community with very positive results.
Media Manager, Constance Saveka, was one of a group of 30 that gathered at the SES building to have input into the Draft Document for Reconciliation.
Ms Saveka said the community now had a web site, operated as a training provider, and was the first Indigenous council in Australia to hold a training seminar on the Community Development Employment Program (CDEP).
'Ten years ago we were at the bottom of the funding ladder,' she said. 'Now we're at the top, because we've reconciled as a community to bring about a better future.'
TORRES SHIRE COUNCIL SHOWS SUPPORT FOR THE DRAFT DOCUMENT
A dedicated group gathered at the Port Kennedy Association Hall on Thursday Island for the final consultation, with support for the Draft Document again a clear outcome.
Those present were welcomed by an address from Kaurarag elder, Dr Ron Wasaga, and traditional dance from the Thursday Island Primary School Dance Team.
Much of the meeting focused on the inclusion of sea rights and the topic of greater autonomy for the Torres Strait.
Deputy mayor, Bill Shibaski, said there was a lot the autonomy movement could learn from the reconciliation process.
'Unity is strength,' he said, 'I've always classed myself as fortunate to live in those eras where we lived as one, where your doors were open to everyone'.
'The push for independence was where it all came together and put a brick wall between them and us'.
The Draft Document and National Strategies for Reconciliation received widespread support, and people present at the consultations expressed a desire to have on ongoing involvement with reconciliation in the future.