Indigenous Law Bulletin
by Will Davis
I have heard of treaties. While watching old cowboy movies I saw a proud people signing ‘x’, a people fighting until they could not fight anymore, a humble and noble people. Movie people, but a people nevertheless. A people united by belonging to a community, a recognisable force in opposition to another force. Who are my people?
Whether we like it or not there is a sizeable proportion of urban Indigenous people who are ambivalent about being Murri. Their tribal and language groupings are jumbled, if they are known at all. Their knowledge about culture is sketchy, their histories are blurred, and their children are different shades of colour. Their commitment to community is limited. This is understandable because their community has been formed by so many jolting twists and powerless turns of time. These are my people.
Growing up in Eagleby, Queensland, a public housing suburb nestled between Brisbane and the Gold Coast, I developed a strong commitment to Murri community building. I am currently a teacher at Beenleigh State High School where I run the Indigenous programs. One program is a culture and homework centre called ‘Murriland’. Something strong is occurring in our youth here. Murriland is on after school and they do not have to attend, but they do. They attend for each other and their families, for their unspoken histories, their academic marks and cultural learning, and they attend because they belong.
Will a treaty help my people belong? Mainstream people sometimes need a tightly packaged message to help them accept change and shift mindsets. A treaty could really provide the dominant classes with the mythological and moral backbone to support programs that empower my community. It could provide the cultural legitimacy needed for white teachers to be more empathetic to my people and to accept that a part of education in Australia must be Murri. A treaty could strongly convey the message that we may have been defeated in war, incarcerated, and incapacitated but now we are picking ourselves up.
However, I have my doubts. Our community is a social disaster. Many of my people who are educated and in positions of power in community organisations are not quite comfortable with being Indigenous, or committed to developing our community. They use words like ‘reconciliation’, ‘sorry’ and ‘treaty’ to construct mythologised spaces of conflict, but they are not fighting for anyone or anything in particular. They accept the dominant systems just because it’s too hard to be criticised or relinquish power for the sake of others. It is they who have the potential to fight for and develop our Indigenous community. Instead they choose safety and believe they have done all they can. They believe the past is gone and we will never be a cultural strength in our lands again. But what a sorry Australia it will be if we as a group continue to allow white people to define us, and to allow dominant dreams and beliefs to confine us without exploring the vast possibilities of developing our community, and rebuilding our culture.
At Beenleigh High we try hard to explore Murri identity and show our kids how they can belong culturally. However, some students choose not to attend. Assimilation and cultural annihilation has resulted in youth accepting mainstream culture, and using Indigenous identity only as a passport into universities, or a bit of exotic heritage. Some turn away from an identity that has only brought their families hardship and pain.
We are a resourceful people. We do not have to be black white people. We have a right to be Murri. However, some responsibilities must come with it, primarily community commitment. Will a treaty develop my community and facilitate culture building? Can it get our people autonomy, respect and recognition? Will it result in some relinquishing of power by the dominant forces? If it did – oh how sweet it would be!
Will Davis is a Cobble Cobble man from South East Queensland. Murriland won the Australian Education Union Reconciliation Award in 2000 and the South East Queensland Community Development Award, also in 2000. He is a guest lecturer at the University of Queensland Education Faculty and Aboriginal Studies Unit.
 The term ‘Murri’ refers to Indigenous people who come from Queensland.