The aim of this page is to guide young people to resources that they can use to understand more about reconciliation - what it means and what it means to get active to make reconciliation happen. The Resources section includes explanations about reconciliation from other organisations and the government. Reconciliation means different things to different people and by including different views we hope that young people have an opportunity to make up their own minds about what reconciliation is and why it is important in Australia.
Included first up is an explanation about what we (the young people in ReconciliACTIONnsw!) mean when we use the term reconciliation.
- So what is reconciliation anyway?
- Are there different types of reconciliation?
- What is the reconciliation movement?
- What is Reconciliation Week?
- Useful links and resources
In its broadest sense ‘reconciliation’ means coming together. In Australia it is the term used to refer to the bringing together of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, or Indigenous, and non-Indigenous Australians. Supporting reconciliation means working to overcome the reasons there is division and inequality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
One of the most important areas of division and inequality is the difference in health, income and living standards of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. For example, Indigenous people have a life expectancy some 17 years shorter than the national average, the rate of unemployment for Indigenous people is four times higher than for other Australians, and Indigenous people are 11 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous people. These issues are explored in more detail through the other pages on this website.
Another important cause of division is misunderstanding, prejudice and racism, as many non-Indigenous people still know little about Indigenous people and history.
Examples of reconciliation in action include projects to combat racism and prejudice, to educate the community about Indigenous Australia and Australia’s shared history. Many reconciliation projects focus on addressing the injustices of the past, for example campaigns to return wages to Indigenous workers which were taken by the government when it was still legal to discriminate against people on the basis of their race.
Other reconciliation projects aim bring Indigenous and non-Indigenous people together to learn more about each other, and others focus on addressing disadvantage by providing services for Indigenous people.
Reconciliation projects also include projects where Australians work together to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to exercise their distinctive rights as the First Peoples of Australia. Support for Indigenous rights is crucial because Australia cannot become a reconciled nation until Indigenous people’s rights and cultures are respected and Indigenous people are able stand together on an equal footing with non-Indigenous Australians.
Internationally other countries like South Africa are also working to achieve reconciliation. Examples of reconciliation activities in South Africa include the ‘Truth in Reconciliation’ Commission, where people are brought forward to tell the truth about the acts of repression and racism against black Africans that took place under apartheid. (‘Apartheid’ was the system of dividing people by race which existed in South Africa from 1948 until 1994. People were classified mainly into racial groups of Black, White, Coloured and Indian. Similar regulations in Australia ended earlier – see the History web page for more details).
In Australia most people would agree that we should end racism against Indigenous people, and it is a bad thing that more Indigenous people live in poverty than other people. But there are disagreements about the best way to deal with the past and to fix the issues which continue today.
From 2001 to 2007 it was the official policy of the Australian Government under former Prime Minister John Howard was ‘practical reconciliation’. The idea behind practical reconciliation is that the government should focus on practical things which improve the living standards of Indigenous people, such as providing the same quality of housing or water that non-Indigenous communities receive.
While there is strong support for improving services for Indigenous communities, there are two important criticisms of this type of reconciliation.
The first is that ‘practical reconciliation’ has not led to many practical improvements. Under practical reconciliation the focus has been on delivering services to Indigenous people in the same way as to other Australians. This has meant more funding for ‘mainstream’ agencies rather services run by Indigenous people.
Internationally it has been shown that things improve improve most quickly when Indigenous people are able to work in partnership with government to determine what their communities need, and have some control over how services to their communities are delivered (often referred to as ’self determination’).
In Australia the policy of practical reconciliation has seen the gap between health, housing, education improve only slightly over the last few years. In countries like New Zealand and Canada there have been much better improvements, more quickly, where the government has trusted Indigenous people to run their own affairs.
The second criticism is that it is important to deal with symbolic issues as well as practical ones. Symbolic issues include things like an apology to the Stolen Generations. Telling the truth about the past and being honest about why racism still exists in Australia must be addressed if reconciliation is to be achieved.
The different type of reconciliation supported by groups like ReconciliACTION is sometimes called ‘rights based reconciliation’.
Under this view, it is recognised that the only way to achieve real change is to work in partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to overcome the inequalities that exist.
In practical terms, this means recognising the rights of Indigenous people to the same services as everyone else (the same as practical reconciliation). But it also means recognising that problems will be solved more quickly and for the long term if Indigenous people are supported to manage the issues themselves. This is the principle of ’self-determination’ which is recognised in the International Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
It also means respecting the special rights that Indigenous people have as the original custodians of Australia, such as the right to own and manage their traditional lands.
People and groups which work on reconciliation projects often refer to themselves as part of the reconciliation movement, or the reconciliation Peoples’ Movement.
The term reconciliation was first used by a lot of people in Australia in the 1990s. It was a recommendation of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody that a process of national reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians be established.
Like some other countries like South Africa, which have a history of conflict between their first peoples and the colonisers, the Australian Government began an official process of reconciliation in Australia by establishing a Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation in 1991.
The Council’s vision was for “A united Australia, which respects this land of ours; values the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage; and provides justice and equality for all.”
The aim of the Australian reconciliation process, which was supported by both the Australian Labour Party and the Liberal/ National Coalition at the time, was to “improve relations between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians through increasing understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, cultures, past dispossession and present disadvantage, and to foster an ongoing national commitment to cooperate to address their disadvantage …”
The Council spent 10 years consulting with people from across Australia on a reconciliation document that all Australians could sign up to. It also developed many resources to education the community about Indigenous people, held communities meetings, and supported local reconciliation groups of volunteers to form and undertake reconciliation projects in their local areas. These local reconciliation groups helped make up the reconciliation movement.
In 2000 the Council delivered the final Australian Declaration Towards Reconciliation and four National Strategies to Advance Reconciliation (see links below to download). Together, these documents present a vision for a reconciliation in Australia and explain what we all need to do to get there.
The Council finished operating in 2001. It handed the national reconciliation documents to the former Prime Minister John Howard following the famous Harbour Bridge Walk in 2000, when up to half a million people walked over the bridge to show their support for reconciliation.
Sadly, the Australian government at the time did not agree with the strategies, and decided not to enact them. Instead the government developed their own policy which it called “practical reconciliation” which responds to a few, but not many, of the recommendations of the Council.
Since 2001, other organisations continue to argue for governments to take more action to advance reconciliation. Some resources from those organisations are listed below.
For more information about the history of reconciliation policy and the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation see the History issues page.
Reconciliation Week is held each year between 27 May and 3 June. The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation started the first Reconciliation Week in 1996, and it has been celebrated every year since.
May 27 is the day that the 1967 Referendum was passed. The referendum was a national vote where more than 90 per cent of Australians voted to change the Constitution to better recognise Indigenous people as full citizens of Australia. It also gave the Commonwealth Government the power to make laws on behalf of Aboriginal people.
June 3 marks the anniversary of the High Court of Australia’s 1992 judgment in the celebrated Mabo case. This was a famous case where the court recognised the Native Title rights of Indigenous peoples, and overturned the myth that Australia was empty of people and that Indigenous people did not own the land before European settlement in 1788.
Each year during Reconciliation Week people from across Australia get together to hold events to education people about reconciliation, to celebrate Indigenous cultures and to protest about what is still left to be done.
Roadmap for Reconciliation by Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation
http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/other/IndigLRes/car/ (follow the links on the left hand side).
Reconciliation Australia’s website includes a Resources section, which includes a page on ‘What is reconciliation.’ This is a good, short statement about what is Reconciliation in Australia.
ANTaR Victoria’s Reconciliation
ANTaR Victoria is a reconciliation organisation which believes that ‘reconciliation is whitefella business’. Its webpage on reconciliation includes an interesting explanation of what reconciliation is, developed from working with different groups on reconciliation projects since the 1990s.
The People’s Movement Website
This website was first launched in 2007. It has been written by volunteers working to support reconciliation in NSW. It includes some history of reconciliation since 1990s, what led up to it, and the groups involved.
Working Together Australians for Reconciliation Information Kit
This resource provides useful information regarding not only reconciliation itself, but also about the sorts of things that people and groups have done to fight for reeconciliation. You can also follow links from the same site to the Australians for Reconciliation Learning Circle Kit and Local Reconciliation Group Kit from the same website. These two Kits are designed for groups of people, or Study Circles, to use to educate themselves and others about issues. They include brief information on the issues and then discussion questions, exercises and research leads which people can use to find out more. These were produced in the mid 1990s, so some of the information is a bit out of date (eg about government policy), but it’s worth skimming through to find the interesting bits in these Kits.
ActNow Reconciliation Webpage
ActNow is a website set up by the Inspire Foundation to provide simple information about issues young people case about and practical advice about what young people can do. Content developed by young people includes a Human Rights section with one to two pages about ‘What is Reconciliation?’ which includes some information about events in Australia’s history which relate to reconciliation, but then assumes that reconciliation ended in 2000, which isn’t correct.
Wikipedia Free Encyclopedia
Wikipedia is an international website encyclopedia, which is written by users themselves. In 2007 the website included a section on reconciliation and the sorts of things that can be described as ‘reconciliation’. This site gives international examples of reconciliation which aim to heal rifts in communities – for example the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa.
But remember, as always on Wikipedia, this information isn’t ‘approved’ or ‘authored’ by any particular body, so it can contain errors, and changes over time as more people add things. It may even be deleted! If you find an error or have some extra information you think should be added, you can add it yourself.
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