With Pat Dodson’s Sydney Peace Prize acceptance speech – at the same time as Barak Obama was being elected President in the US – Peter Botsman – Chief Editor of the Australian Prospect – believes Australia’s national Indigenous leader has emerged. He writes:
“Many of us thought that Patrick Dodson should have been appointed Governor General earlier this year. But he is in fact already much more than that, he is the only man who can act as leader of the multiplicity of Australian Aboriginal peoples. He with the Prime Minister is a co-leader of Australia. As such, in many ways, it was the leader of modern Indigenous Australia’s voice that we were hearing for the first time last night. He spoke of behalf of Aboriginal leaders past, fallen and present. It was their power to resist, to move forward and to maintain a strong culture and society against all odds that was the basis of strength, power and knowledge that this new voice of authority conveyed.”
“Our nation, Australia, now has the chance to construct a new society built on equality and justice and in harmony with the land and its people. It is not an impossible task provided that we have the love and enthusiasm to begin the journey – the rest will follow.” Pat Dodson
“Australia has a Prime Minister. But the first peoples of Australia do not and can not elect their leader for the colonial state that is modern Australia. There have been many attempts to create artificial political representation for Aboriginal peoples – none have worked. In the Aboriginal nations and mala, leadership is earned after a life journey and knowledge and power is demonstrated in capability. One elder emerges and is acknowledged by all. No one has to confer this status. Everyone knows who this leader is. The elder carries his authority in his sacred wisdom and this is displayed in his or her conduct, words and mana. There may be brilliant warriors, orators, dancers, diplomats, traders or hunters and there may be rival leaders but everyone knows who is leader. Europeans are often surprised to find that the leader is an elderly man or woman who sits un-noticed and ordinary, not in front, but in the midst of a huddle of people.
In all the nations of Aboriginal Australia this is how it is. But because of the peculiar nature of the Australian colonial states and its violent history and wars against the nations of Aboriginal Australia it has never been possible for one leader to come forward and to make his or her observations on behalf of the whole. Rather the leaders of Aboriginal nations have fought their own battles against their invaders and adversaries. Across the nation, just as Europeans did not recognize Aboriginal law and title, Aboriginal Australia did not recognize the authority or structures of the invading group. The concept of the whole of the Australian territory as a Commonwealth State was also foreign. It would have been inappropriate for one person to speak on behalf of the hundreds of Aboriginal nations that had authority over particular parts of the land mass. It is still inappropriate for one leader to speak with authority about the business of one Aboriginal nation’s landed estates or ceremony. In the same way it is inappropriate for a Prime Minister to speak with authority about the goings on within a State or region or a family…
From the aire of his first words it became clear that we were hearing from Australia’s native peoples for the first time. The full meaning of his speech did not come from the words but in the way he spoke. The inner meaning was clear however: ‘We for the first time acknowledge you as you acknowledge us. We forgive you for your crimes against us. It is time for us to move forward together and for you to hear our wisdom and our thoughts of the world’…
Some Major Points – Strong And Powerful
- How could the Australian nation be a leader in the world when it did not address its own internal contradictions and weaknesses? One of the memorable lines of his oration was “We do not have to travel to Africa or so called Third World countries to be concerned with peace and justice”. How does the world think of us when we comment on high issues and cannot fix or even acknowledge our own internal problems?
- “Perhaps the challenge is not to be preoccupied with our status within the G20 of economic powers but to be within the G3 of Just and Peaceful powers!”
- It is time for Australia to reject the narrow assimilationist perception of Indigenous Australians. In the coming period the rituals of Aboriginal culture should be practiced and accepted in their own right within the mainstream of the nation just as they are in other countries in our region. A new philosophical framework of the Australian nation will be created through the “Australian Dialogue” led by Lieutenant General Sanderson and Dodson.
This will be an important way for the new leader to work shoulder to shoulder with non-Indigenous Australians to create a new a new philosophical foundation of the nation” that promises a new way of walking forward together. Perhaps, Dodson contended, Australia will start to appreciate the sacredness of the land and begin to address the fundamental environmental issues we face.
It must have been a remarkable night. The full transcript of Pat Dodson’s speech is here.