June Oscar: Reconciliation, it is ours (extract)
June Oscar's moving acceptance speech at the 2016 Desmond Tutu Reconciliation Fellowship award brought the crowd to a standing ovation. Former Governor-General Dame Quentin Bryce lovingly presented the award to June, for her extraordinary work in reconciliation and outstanding community health achievements in the Kimberley's Fitzroy Valley. Russell Smith from Manta trio treated us to a beautiful didgeridoo performance during the ceremony.
Relive the moment and read on for the full speech below:
To all family and mob in the Fitzroy Valley and beyond, and to my mother Mona Oscar who has taught me the values of life, to embrace, not to hate, to not fight when I feel afraid, to not react to emotions of grief and anger with violence, to appreciate all that’s been given to me.
When I was told that I was the recipient of this fellowship I was overwhelmed… I asked ‘why me?’ I am just one person amongst many.
One person, standing beside Aung San Suu Kyi, a woman who is my greatest hero. An inspiration to my life and many others around the globe.
Broadly, let me tell you all, reconciliation is ‘ours’. It is a process that belongs to all of ‘us’. To reconcile (for me) means togetherness. Whether it’s an acceptance of an idea, a change in governance structures to incorporate more voices, settling a dispute within a family or community, or a renewed reflection on history; reconciliation is based on relationships. It is formed through interconnections. Reconciliation is never a lone ranger.
When I think of it like this, my entire life, all of our lives to one degree or another, are a reconciling journey.
For many reasons this journey has come to define who I am. As a Bunuba person, a woman, an Australian citizen, an Australian Aboriginal person, a person with European heritage, I stand at the crossroads of a complex set of identities. I don’t want to resist any of them. I don’t want to assimilate into anyone of them. I want to reconcile them. To choose how I embody them in my daily life without fear that any one part of myself will be persecuted or discriminated against.
The freedoms of humanity that we see as a birth right for all, ratified by United Nations, are not yet ours but they are within our reach.
I know this because within my lifetime I have seen extraordinary change. Things that we never thought possible become our reality. I have felt the repercussions of my people’s world turned upside down by colonisation. I grew up between station and mission life when no towns in the Fitzroy Valley region of the Kimberley existed. I was born in a time when Aboriginal people did not have citizenship rights. I grew up to see Aboriginal people have full citizenship rights, to be paid equal wages, and later the recognition of our Indigenous rights through native title.
When we as Aboriginal people received our full citizenship rights, we were also allowed to drink. Many began drinking at a time when we did not have the same recent history of societal and economic freedoms and advantages as the rest of Australia. We began drinking when our recent history was one of dramatic conflict, societal upheaval and devastation. In the proceeding decades, while we have continued to experience marginalisation from mainstream Australia, the overconsumption of alcohol has become normalised, a social lubricant which eases the pains of the past and numbs the ongoing effects of grief.
Alcohol is both a symptom and ongoing cause of trauma.
Our leadership in the Fitzroy Valley is well known because of these purposeful community led interventions to reduce harms across our community, to break the cycle of transmitted trauma.
To truly change the course of history, we need everyone to embark on this journey with us. It will take us all to build a firm resolve and commitment to ensure the work we do today can restore our Indigenous societies to full health, wellbeing and vibrancy so that our children can have access to all the opportunities that are their birth right.
My message is this: never leave reconciliation in the hands of another.
Reconciliation is everyone’s business. It is for all to contribute and participate. We must reach beyond our worlds and interact with those who are not in our daily lives. In doing this we learn about the rich and complex histories of our nation and we also ascribe meaning to the lives of others.
With a better understanding of the lived realities of Indigenous peoples and the many cultural heritages and ethnicities that compose the Australian nation state, we can take the necessary steps to eradicate injustice and all forms of discrimination wherever it presents.
Until the entirety of Australia’s history is acknowledged, and trauma is understood, we deny the truth of this nation and lock ourselves in fleeting moments of reconciliation. In doing this we stall the progress of a necessary reconciling journey.
I believe the time is now to begin this journey and never let it end. Australia is ready to reconcile.
We are a nation living in relative peace and prosperity. We have moved beyond serious conflicts and violent social fractures. We are in a stable position to explore our heritage, reconcile our differences and celebrate the diversity of our cultures. In this state we can acknowledge trauma without passing blame. We can learn to understand the effects trauma has on individuals and societies so we can invest in the necessary resources to heal the wounds of the past.
This is not the time to be afraid. It is not the time to shut our borders, to close communities, to reduce our cultural diversity. Today we have the lessons of time at our fingertips and the resources to enable a vibrant humanity.
Let us not be afraid of the past.
Let us constantly revive our histories and never let them settle, so we do not repeat the trauma of colonisation, dislocation, displacement and marginalisation.
Let’s use the force of reconciliation to learn from our history. As a nation we can lead by example.
This reality is waiting for us. Reconciliation is our empowerment, to work together to shape tomorrow.
Because our future does not exist in anyone else’s hands. Our future is determined by us, today.