BY AMY MCQUIRE, FEBRUARY 13, 2012
Originally published in Tracker Magazine.
NATIONAL: The one fact that stands out to me when reflecting on the 40th anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy is just how young many of those now-experienced activists were.
The four who first camped on those lawns were aged between 18 and 20. They were soon joined by a wave of Aboriginal youth, strong in their belief that they could affect change through protest.
At 18, for example, Sam Watson was figuring out how to transport Black Panther ideologies to Australia, to help the fight for black rights. At the same age, Sol Bellear was actually touring America.
With the support and guidance of their elders, youth were able to play an important part in influencing public debate, and were instrumental in broadcasting the message for Land Rights to international audiences.
The legacy they leave should be humbling to Aboriginal young people across the country. For the past few decades, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth have largely been left out of political activism. While they have no doubt been involved, they are no longer leading the way.
Can you imagine, in this day and age, a group of Aboriginal teenagers dropping their lives and running down to cold, miserable Canberra to protest the rights of their communities?
I want to imagine it could happen, but it seems a far cry from the days of 1972. Is it because youth are now too comfortable? Are we too pre-occupied with success in the white sense, of becoming lawyers and doctors at the expense of fighting for our most basic human rights? There is no doubt, passion and strength amongst Indigenous youth today. But where is the vehicle to transport that enthusiasm onto the front pages of dailies across the world?
The 15-year-old daughter of Aboriginal activist Coco Wharton, who burned the flag the day after Survival Day, should be praised for her willingness to fight, regardless of whether you agree with her methods.
The fact she was so frustrated at the messages of the Embassy being ignored, enough to take a lighter to the flag, should be a wake up call for Australia.
Imagine, the frustration of the older generation, who spent years pounding the pavement, only to have their demands still unfulfilled, and backtracked, forty years on?
The next generation has a duty to continue that fight, to honour there sacrifices, and keep the fire burning. Of course, the nature of protest is going to change.
Maybe we no longer need to physically camp at the Tent Embassy. But there is no doubt youth have to mobalise, and become politically active.
They have to be willing to sacrifice. Through new technologies, through social networks and communication tools, we have far more power than those early activists of the 70s.
We also have the great tool of education at our disposal. Many of our elders didn’t have those opportunities, and it is through their fights we were able to access them.
Youth must also choose the right issue to mobalise under.
I believe that issue should be National Land Rights. It is an issue that is still at the heart and soul of our communities.
Land rights can deliver self-determination for Aboriginal people. It can act as an expression of a sovereignty never ceded.
But the issue has largely fallen off the political radar. We have to start talking about it. There has to be a passing of the mantle, and an empowerment of youth to help force change.