"Not superior or better rights, different rights"
by Richard Stone "When I speak of indigenous rights as an Australian, I don't speak of superior or better rights, its different rights", said Dr Mick Dodson, the main speaker at the annual Graham F Smith Peace Trust dinner in Adelaide on June 24. He spoke of the "distinctive characteristics and identity", of the Aboriginal people and that the issue was about the right to an identity in contemporary Australia. "The concept of equality is fundamental", he stated, specifying that it was required for Aboriginal people as part of the Australian Constitution. The meeting hall was packed and Dr Dodson was introduced as Chairperson of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Director of Dodson, Bauman and Associates, legal consultants and the former Social Justice Commissioner between 1993-98. Mick used the event to give a powerful address about the submission to the Reconciliation Council. Problems arising from documenting rights and a treaty were fully examined in the context of the racism and discrimination which Aboriginal people experience in their daily lives. He spoke of the problems arising from the theft of the inheritance of Aboriginal culture, the importance of Aboriginal languages and problems arising in the legal field. He stressed that there was a need for better educational facilities in Aboriginal languages. Representation Addressing the issue of the right to representation at local, regional and national levels, Mick spoke of the need for Aboriginal organisation and their empowerment in decision-making centres of australian society. "There needs to be indigenous participation in all planning processes", and this "needed to be enshrined in an agreement." "Governments needed to respect treaties and agreements with Aboriginal peoples", said Mick. It was a particularly important rallying-cry for those pressing for the honouring of existing agreements and the need to develop more lasting ones which favour the Aboriginal people. With particular relevance to recent developments in SA with the use of land for purposes not originally intended, Mick said: "We have a right to decide about our land and the development of mineral resources." Significant struggles have taken place in recent times in SA over the use of Aboriginal lands for a number of uses including the nuclear industry. Following soon after the highly successful walk of over fifty thousand South Australians in May in support of Reconciliation the Peace Trust dinner proved a memorable event. The Graham F Smith Peace Trust has developed into an important organisation with considerable lobbying power in its own right. It annually mobilises a large number of people around a central peace theme and gives it a place of significance within the broader movement in SA.