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Report-back brief from the “Defending Indigenous Rights” gathering in Mparntwe 6th – 9th July 2010

Report-back brief from the "Defending Indigenous Rights" gathering in Mparntwe 6th - 9th July 2010

The conference "Defending Indigenous Rights" was held in Mparntwe (Alice Springs) from Tuesday, 6 July to Friday, 9 July 2010.

Unexpected heavy rain shortly before and at the start of the conference unfortunately prevented many people from remote areas from coming. Nevertheless about 200 Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal people attended.

The conference opened on Tuesday with a Welcome to Country Ceremony.

Tuesday's highlight was the presentation by Chris Graham titled "Racism in the Media: The lie that built a Northern Territory Intervention". Chris presented the truth about the Lateline program which triggered the "Little Children are Sacred" report. He revealed that most of the Lateline story was fiction based on lies and intentional misrepresentation of facts. This presentation was so important that it was repeated on Thursday.

On Wednesday we heard a report from the Ampilatwatja walkoff and the protest house built in February. The documentary "Alyawarr Walk off Protest vs Northern Territory Intervention" was shown. There was also discussion about housing policy (new houses are only offered to selected communities and only if they sign 40 year leases - all the homelands / outstations miss out completely). Monica Morgan from Amnesty International also spoke. In the afternoon a presentation about the struggle for community controlled health services and a workshop on how Aboriginal people and others can work together respectfully for Aboriginal Rights were held.

On Thursday a forum on the importance of Indigenous languages in education as well as on the impacts the changes to Bi-lingual education has had on communities across the NT was held. One of the resolutions coming out from the gathering was to stop the erosion of Aboriginal peoples' rights to their language. On the UN Refugee Agency's website, the Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009 - Australia, states on 16 July 2009 "The right to education in mother tongue continues to be violated in Australia. Indigenous literacy outcomes are directly related to Aboriginals' access to their own culture, history and languages, and books in indigenous languages for students whose first language is not English, are rare. The Northern Territory government recently announced a move towards a more 'English-only' form of education, which represents a patent breach of the right of indigenous peoples to some form of education in their own languages where practicable."[1]

The government conducted so-called "consultations" about the future of the NT Intervention policies in Aboriginal communities from June to August 2009. The government claims that the result of these consultations is an over-whelming support of Aboriginal people for the now introduced changes to the NT Intervention legislation. There are serious indications that the consultation process itself was deeply flawed. The problems include amongst others insufficient notifications that consultations were to be held, the consultations were conducted by government employees, there was a lack of interpreters at the meeting and biased material was presented at the consultations.

The report "Will they be heard?" analyses three of the consultations and looks at other community reports and five government regional reports from the same consultative process seeking the views of representatives from all prescribed communities in the Northern Territory. The report reveals that Aboriginal people were voicing strong opposition to compulsory income management and other NTER measures. The book "This Is What We Said" is a follow-up to the "Will they be heard?" report. Using pictures and quotations taken from footage of actual consultations at Bagot, Ampilatwatja, Utopia and Yirrkala, it provides an account of the depth of frustration and despair of many Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory regarding the Intervention. All of this evidence shows a clear opposition of the "consulted" people against the new NT Intervention laws.

The book which contains quotes from Aboriginal people giving their own views on the Intervention was available at the Conference. Giving voice to Aboriginal people from the Northern Territory is fairly uncommon. This is a wonderful opportunity to receive authentic information about what Aboriginal people really think about the Intervention. It is highly important that these views are heard for they differ vastly from what is often portrayed in the media.

On Thursday evening the topic was "Breaking the Nuclear Chain". Aboriginal people spoke about standing up to the nuclear industry. Speakers included activists and leaders from communities opposed to the Muckaty waste dump, Olympic Dam and Beverley uranium mines. Dianne Stokes, a Warumungu - Warlmanpa woman, Mitch, an Eastern Arrente woman from the Engawala community and others spoke very passionately about the impacts of the proposed Muckaty waste dump and the effects of the whole nuclear industry on their country and communities. Next Tuesday 5 Elders from Muckaty will be in Sydney to speak at a public meeting and meet with trade unionists and supporters. They are making sure the issue is high on the agenda for the upcoming federal election. The meeting will be held at Fire Brigade Employees' Union building, 1-7 Belmore Street, Surry Hills on Tuesday, July 27, 2010, 6:30pm.

The gathering concluded on Friday with the passing of various resolutions and was followed by a Stop the Intervention rally in the centre of Alice Springs.

Marching together for:

  • Immediate and full reinstatement of the RDA,
  • No more BasicsCard,
  • Stop the Job Cuts - Employments and Services for all communities,
  • Land Rights not Leases!


Following from the Alice Springs conference STICS will be holding a report-back with photos of the protests and meetings. The meeting will report on resolutions from the conference and discuss the way forward for the national campaign against the intervention. The report-back will take place at the Federation Conference Centre, 23-33 Mary Street, Surry Hills on Monday, 26 July 2010 at 6 pm.



[1] Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2009 - Australia, 16 July 2009, available at: