BETWEEN 2016 AND 2017, a series of First Nations regional constitutional dialogues were held across Australia. These dialogues led to the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and they were resolute in their rejection of ‘reconciliation’ as an appropriate framework to apply to Australian conditions. According to many who participated in the dialogues, reconciliation is the wrong framework, as it assumes a pre-existing relationship: as the Uluru Statement from the Heart puts it, we have never met. The proper framing of the relationship between First Nations and the Australian people is a starting point, an invitation to meet – and this is the vision of the Uluru Statement. In this way, the delivery of the statement by those First Nations peoples gathered together at Uluru on 27 May 2017 traversed the language of reconciliation after decades of trite utterances and a steely-eyed focus on citizenship rights and Indigenous engagement in the market economy to the exclusion of truth and justice. While employment compacts have proliferated, signed in the name of reconciliation, our people have become sicker and less educated while child removals and incarceration rates have skyrocketed.
The confused and asymmetrical way reconciliation has proceeded in Australia has led to a multitude of misconceptions about reconciliation and much bombastic rhetoric around truth-telling. Words such as ‘reckoning’ reveal some of the grandiloquent discourses on truth-telling and the reality of a nation at sea when it comes to Vergangenheitsbewältigung – coming to terms with the past.
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