Permission to reprint original essay as published by ABC on-line, 13th June 2019.
Most people are shocked when I say that a Tasmanian Liberal Government has created more Indigenous rights in five years than the previous government did in 15 years.
The recent announcement that a dual-naming policy will allow Aboriginal names to be used over geographic features and places is just the latest example.
Would you also be aware that Tasmania’s constitution was amended in 2016 to acknowledge our First Peoples as traditional owners in only 23 months, from raising the very idea to the Governor’s Royal Assent?
What about the establishment of Tasmania’s first joint management plan over a protected area, the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area or TWWHA country, judged by the World Heritage Committee’s mission report to exceed consultation and inclusion standards?
How about a globally unique Indigenous education curriculum — The Orb — that is a public-access, web-based platform to bring Indigenous knowledge and peoples into the home and classroom?
Or the removal of discrimination from the Act that governs cultural heritage (and institution of the largest fines in Australian for damage to sites)?
But perhaps you knew that the Premier dedicated the entirety of his 2016 Australia Day address to Aboriginal Tasmanian issues or that the Governor is helping to make good an agreement that is almost 190 years old for relations between Aboriginal and other Tasmanians — one of peace, security and belonging and underpinned by the first lands right call in Australia?
No, haven’t heard these things? I do not blame you.
We decided to try a non-confrontational approach to create this social shift. It did not make the news but it did deliver results.
We used love — real revolutionary love — to make Tasmanian society richer, fairer and more meaningful.
‘I did not exist’
I am Aboriginal Tasmanian and before our constitution was amended I did not exist.
We were globally declared “extinct” as a peoples upon the death of our countrywoman, Trucanini, in 1876.
Photo: Trucanini (1866): when she died a decade later Aboriginal Tasmanians were wrongfully declared “extinct”.
(Photographer: C.A.Woolley, Collection: Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery (Q177.2))
Yet, in 2014, it was through a small group of our peoples, including Elders, that we began to repair this trauma of non-being by declaring love.
We thanked the Government for their discrimination, their exile and their dispossession, and we love-bombed the Tasmanian Government.
We did this while recognising that our governance relationship is a violent one, but we saw a future of healthy families, functional communities and deep, respectful relations between all Tasmanians.
Through love we desired to reset the relationship and create a vibrant and vital Aboriginal Tasmanian identity that is welcoming of new governance relationships.
We understood that Indigenous leadership was necessary for our genuine inclusion, where Aboriginal Tasmanian gains did not come at the expense of any other person or group.
Instead, mutual benefit has been the key to rapidly developing a suite of rights that is unlike any other in Australia.
All Tasmanians have a place in relation to us — the First Peoples of the lands and waters — and we created this remarkable achievement through kinship and reciprocity.
Kinship, to us, means that all Tasmanians are part of our extended families.
They belong to us and we belong to them. When we are able to extend the cultural strengths and assets of kinship to all Tasmanians, we begin to reduce family violence in our homes and across our broader communities of all Tasmanians.
Open door policy
Sharing palawa kani and Aboriginal culture
Learn a couple of palawa kani words to use every day.
Reset the Relationship was adopted as the title of a 2016 Tasmanian whole-of-government strategy that establishes how we negotiate with each other, rather than solely a prescriptive list of what should be done.
When we can have a mature relationship based on kinship, then we position ourselves as being reciprocal and work towards mutual benefit in our regions.
Reciprocity does not mean that we compromise on issues; rather we build the foundations that produce multiple and respectful opinions, views and processes.
We grow with each other to improve and expand the range of positive changes, rather than blaming a policy or regulation failure and becoming static.
The Tasmanian Government now has an open-door policy for Aboriginal Tasmanians, where a regular forum is held between departmental and agency heads with multiple Aboriginal Tasmanian organisations to make collective action a centrepiece strategy rather than practising silos in work.
Aboriginal Tasmanian leadership has now become the norm in devising government strategies and benefits, and we know that we are onto something powerful.
What is evident, though, is that when you exist, or come into being away from extinction myths, and are acknowledged for the cultural contributions towards the socio-economic outcomes of a place, then life is reaffirmed as something beautiful and full of love.
Dr Emma Lee is a trawlwulwuy woman from tebrakunna country, north-east Tasmania. She is a research fellow at Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne.