Making space to have a yarn about the Voice

Larissa Minniecon knows where she stands on the Aboriginal Voice to parliament – she’s firmly in the yes camp. But the Gubbi Gubbi Gurang Gurang woman believes it’s important to address the ambivalence in the community about it.

That’s why Scarred Tree Ministries, of which she is an emerging leader, is holding a conference, Voice and the Church, this Saturday, 15 October, to help church leaders gain a better understanding of the concept and related issues.

More than 100 people will gather at St John’s Anglican Church, Glebe, in Sydney, to hear a range of views from First Australians working at the front line of their communities. Their standpoints range from positive to negative and ambivalent.

“We’re not trying to force our views on our community. We’re very much giving a voice to all who are representatives of this Voice,” she explains.

For First Australians, the Voice proposal offers both hopes and challenges, Minniecon acknowledges.

“It has the potential to provide crucial representation and insight from First Australians to the parliament,” she said. “Yet it has also sparked deep concern for what constitutional reform may mean to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ land, language, and culture.”

“Governments, since the 1900s Constitution was formed, have failed our people in closing the gaps.” – Larissa Minniecon

In addressing the ambivalence and fear about the Voice, the conference will also provide a theological perspective on the importance of truth-telling in the Church, she said.

“The value of the conference is that it will provide theological perspectives on the Voice and an understanding of how churches can follow, or come alongside, their Indigenous brothers and sisters. It will position churches for better, more ethical conversations and help them engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples more effectively.”

She points out that all Australians are going to be forced to vote in the referendum on setting up a body to advise on laws and policies affecting Aboriginal people, so it’s important to make the space to learn from First Australians on the issues. She hopes that once Christians have developed a deeper understanding, they will commit to lead the charge as they did in the lead-up to the 1967 referendum that granted Aboriginal people citizenship.

“What that 1967 referendum has done for us is that it just created neutrality. We’re neutral now – we’re part of the citizens of Australia. But governments, since the 1900s Constitution was formed, have failed our people in closing the gaps for our health, our employment – all of that. We only make up 3 per cent of the population and they fail us at every point in every government.

“The referendum is important because it would provide representatives of our voice in the Constitution and in parliament so that the laws made about us are from us.”

“A lot of our mob are asking for a treaty or asking for sovereignty or other things rather than the Voice but we see it as being a part of the Voice.” – Larissa Minniecon

This lack of government results has made many Aboriginal people suspicious of the Voice proposal, she said.

“A lot of our mob are asking for a treaty or asking for sovereignty or other things rather than the Voice but we see it as being a part of the Voice.”

She pointed out that First Australians are diverse people who stand for their various communities.

“One of the things that we have to understand is that we don’t identify as an Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander race. I stand as a Gubbi Gubbi Gurang Gurang woman as my nation. We are a diverse 600 nations,” she said.

That was why a Voice was needed, so that the interests of people in a remote communities, such as Maningrida in the Northern Territory, could be heard alongside those in urban communities.

“I would never be able to speak for Maningrida, but because we are forced to be under this thing called Race as an Aboriginal person. We want to make sure that they have the same rights in Maningrida at a federal level as for me here in an urban setting. That’s why we need constitutional recognition or constitutional change to help in that area.

“One of the things that I always say to the Church is that this is not a question of faith – this is a question of justice. This is what we’re asking the church to join us in, in the truth-telling of justice, because they did have a hand in this loss and this grief and this trauma. So it’s just making sure that, with this truth-telling, reconciliation is actually realised – it’s not just words.”

Asked what the Voice means to her on a personal level, Minniecon said she is hoping it will lead to “structural equality” and “quality laws and policies” because successive governments had proved themselves incapable of providing these.

For tickets and further information, visit the Scarred Tree Indigenous Ministries Facebook page or click here.