The National Indigenous Human Rights Awards recognises and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have significantly contributed to the advancement of human rights and social justice .
The 2017 Awards ceremony coincided with the 25th Anniversary of the Mabo decision in the High Court, which significantly established a fundamental truth and basis for justice for Indigenous Australian people.
‘” Believing in the impossible is really what leads us to where we get to in life. And if we can, share some of those secrets about believing in the impossible.
We are going to listen to a little bit of a story of one man who believed in the impossible.
In 1982 Eddie Koiki Mabo, a Meriam man from Murray Island in the Torres Straits, along with Reverend David Passi, Celuia Mapoo Salee, Sam Passi and James Rice – said No.
No, to being an uncomfortable truth.
No to being told that it was impossible to prove they had rights well before European arrival.
It takes a spiritual nature to pursue peace through such conflict.
These courageous people didn’t want to be reassured with numbing advice that all legal options were impossible.
So they dared to challenge the centuries-old doctrine of Terra Nullius – a land that belonged to no one.
It was a decade-long legal battle. ”
Senator Malarndirri McCarthy’s speech at the National Indigenous Human Rights Award’s at Parliament House reminds people to believe in the impossible as the 25th anniversary of Mabo approaches. Full Speech continued below Part 2
Picture above : The winners of two of the three awards, Mervyn Eades (Dr Yunupingu Human Rights Award) [2nd from left], and Gayili Marika Yunupingu, (Eddie Mabo Lifetime Social Justice Achievement Award) [4th from right] with organisers and presenters of the awards. Missing is Professor Chris Sarra, winner of the Anthony Mundine Courage Award, who was unable to attend the evening.
Photo: Geoff Bagnall
Wiradjuri man, Jake Gablonski attended the National Indigenous Human Rights Awards in Canberra.
He says it’s an honour to be surrounded by Indigenous people who have significantly contributed to the advancement of human rights and social justice in Australia
Last night, the 2017 Indigenous Human Rights Awards were held at Parliament House in Canberra.
I was lucky enough to attend.
It was an honour in itself to attend the awards as a representative from the Black Rainbow enterprise. For those of you who don’t know, Black Rainbow is the only Aboriginal support website for the LGBTQI community. Last year, it’s founder, Dameyon Bonson, was awarded the Dr Yunupingu Award for Human Rights for his work and achievements around Indigenous LGBTI Suicide.
What an incredible experience to be surrounded by so many of our mob doing very significant things, creating positive pathways for a fair Australia for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
I felt really proud and inspired by each and every Aboriginal representative selected to be involved. I felt a deep sense of connection to country, culture and community, as the nominees, award recipients and guest speakers were presented.
Hosted by journalist and author, Jeff McMullen, he took the opportunity to not only express his support for the Awards, but recognise people who have “given their lives to the struggle”.
For me, the highlight of my night was the presentation of a Commemorative Plaque for the 25th Anniversary of the Mabo decision, which was presented to the Mabo family.
I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Aunty Bonita Mabo, wife of Eddie Mabo, who humbly said she was feeling “extremely surprised to be invited to Canberra for the occasion” and to be “presented with the plaque”.
Mrs Mabo said her daughter Gail, and grandchildren will continue to advocate for the Mabo legacy to live on.
Award Nominees and Winners Profile
Anthony Mundine Courage Award: Presented by Anthony Mundine
Dr Meg Willis
Professor Chris Sarra
Winner: Professor Chris Sarra – For his work around Beating the challenges facing Indigenous Students in school – Created the “Stronger and Smarter” philosophy – Encouraging kids to be stronger in their cultural identity, and smarter by attending and excelling at school.
Dr Yunupingu Human Rights Award: Presented by Malarndirri McCarthy – “It’s about believing in the Impossible”
Mr Mark Wenitong
Professor Kerry Arabena
Winner: Mervyn Eades – For his work as a Human Rights Campaigner, transforming the lives of those in prison through mentoring, education and training. Mervyn accepted this award stating that “we need to lead our own destiny”
Eddie Mabo Social Justice Award: Presented by Gail Mabo – “Without Country, who are we?”
Dr Kim Isaacs
Gayili Marika Yunupingu
Winner: Gayili Marika Yunupingu – Who has been working extremely hard to raise awareness around Suicide Prevention and Indigenous social issues right across the Northern Territory including her home community, and wider Australia.
Part 2 : Indigenous elder honoured for work fighting suicide in East Arnhem Land
An Aboriginal elder credited with single-handedly reducing the shocking rate of suicide in her community says her work is not over yet.
Bonita Mabo, wife of the late land rights pioneer Eddie Mabo, last night presented Gayili Marika Yunupingu with a lifetime achievement award at the National Indigenous Human Rights Awards.
The pair embraced and cried at Parliament House as Ms Yunupingu accepted the accolade.
“The job is not finished,” Ms Yunupingu said.
Twelve years ago Ms Yunupingu began a movement to support young people who felt hopeless and suicidal in East Arnhem Land.
At her community at Melville Bay, she put herself on call — 24 hours a day — responding to calls for help from people considering taking their own lives.
The suicide rate there began falling when she established her program, and she recruited others to volunteer to spend time with people in crisis.
She said her next step would be establishing a healing camp, and working with perpetrators and victims of domestic violence.
“We continue to work with the healing place in our community,” she said.
“I accept this award also on behalf of my community, who has struggled with me to keep our people safe and to keep them walking with us.”
Aboriginal educator and the Prime Minister’s Indigenous advisor, Professor Chris Sarra, was presented with a Courage award for his work over many decades.
Mervyn Eades, who helps ex-prisoners into work in Western Australia, was also recognized.
The awards took on special significance this year, 25 years since the historic Mabo decision.
Eddie Mabo’s daughter, Gail, said her father left a legacy for all Australian people to carry on.
“He was a man who was driven by the passions of his people. Let that be the fight of now,” she said.
She said she was heartened to see a new generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people fighting for land rights.
“I take my hat off to everyone who’s fighting to maintain their connection to country — because without country, who are we?”
Ms Mabo said she still had vivid memories of her father, who never lived to see the High Court decision handed down.
“I’d lie there and watch him, and sometimes I saw him cry, and sometimes I’d see him sing.
“The loss of someone, as we all know, it feels like yesterday.”
If you need to talk to someone, call @LifelineAust 13 11 14; @KidsHelplineAU 1800 551 800; @MensLine_Aus 1300 789 978; @SuicideCallBack 1300 659 467.
Part 3 : Senator Malarndirri McCarthy’s speech at the National Indigenous Human Rights Award’s at Parliament House
Like any family, there is no doubt division in Eddie Mabo’s family and in his clan groups in the islands. Divisions not least of which centred on the authority to make decisions, about everyday life on Murray Island, or about who could hunt where for the food. Or whose role it was to take the lead in ceremonies sacred to their people. It was a pretty normal kind of life.
It is human nature to have conflict.
It takes a spiritual nature to pursue peace through such conflict.
There was friction in the understanding of legal doctrine, and further separation of whose legal advice was the better to follow. Who could interpret the law in such a way as to dare challenge this doctrine?
Eddie Koiki Mabo died six months before that decision came down. The High Court decision came down in June 1992.
The challenge and win in the high court resulted in the Native Title Act.
“It is the uncomfortable truth of black and white Australia. It is the uncomfortable truth that white Australia has a black history, and very much a living present.”
The very Act that Merv (Eades) referred to this evening, at the National Indigenous Human Rights Awards, and Jeff, that we are debating in the Senate.
The debating is all about the amendments to what you have heard this evening in terms of an extraordinary win by a family of Noongars in WA. Their legal right to challenge came about because of Eddie Mabo. Their legal right to say no came about because of Eddie Mabo. So the struggle and discernment that we hear in this parliament, the house of the people need to have, is a deeper understanding of why it is that this Act is before the parliament.
Who does it benefit? What is the change? Who else will benefit? Who will lose? Why are we amending the Act? Does it need amending?
These are the questions that we as political members of the parliament must ask. We may not like to as those questions, and we may not want to ask those questions, but that is why we put our hands up and said we want to represent. And that means taking the good with the bad. It means standing in those uncomfortable moments, in those uncomfortable decisions. But, I do believe he spirit of Gail Mabo’s Dad, is right here in this parliament.
If I could share with you the stories of how even to this point. Since the McGlade decision in February, something has been moving in this parliament, a really strong sense of spirit. Where a piece of legislation, that was rushed through the House of Representatives, one day without warning, didn’t happen. It couldn’t be rushed through.
Labor said no.
Then there were further conversations about what is going on here, why is this happening?
Labor insisted that it went to a Senate Inquiry, which is the appropriate process of examination of any act of Parliament, which is what we are here to do. From the Senate Inquiry came an outcome, over sixty submissions to the inquiry, an inquiry led by an incredibly experienced practitioner of Land Rights in my view, and certainly in the view of those that know him, as you would, Senator Pat Dodson.
“We have to listen to everyone.”
It is incredibly complex because Native Title is complex. It is the uncomfortable truth of black and white Australia. It is the uncomfortable truth that white Australia has a black history, and very much a living present.
When the Inquiry completed its findings, it was Labor that narrowed down to make sure that extinguishment was not a part of any steps forward.
It is Senator Pat Dodson who has advocated vehemently and taken the lead to make sure that extinguishment of the rights of the First Peoples of this country does never happen.
The spirit of Mr Mabo floats through here. I believe, in this parliament at a really important time.
The phone rings in my office, in Linda’s office, Pat’s office and I am sure in many of my colleagues of Labor party offices as much as it does in the Government offices.
The phone should ring, and people should listen because those calls are important calls coming from around the nation. It is bigger than Noongar people. This amendments impact over 120 Indigenous Land Use Agreements, We have to examine those land use agreements, we have to listen to the Native Title applicants and claimants from right across the country. As comfortable as it would be to listen to one group, we know that is not what we are here to do. We have to listen to everyone.
I ask each and every one of you to send your strong spirits and goodwill to those of us in there who are trying to discern the best way forward, not just for one group of people but for all people, that your spirits will help us guide through that process.