One of the main topics the Indigenous Narratives subject explores is self-determination and the narratives associated with it.
“There’s a very particular political narrative,” Dr McDowall says. “In 1972, official government policy changed under the Whitlam Government from a priority of assimilation to self-determination, which was the idea that Indigenous people should have a right to make decisions over their individual and collective futures. The definition used in political scholarship is ‘the right for a people to control their own destiny’.”
Dr McDowall explains that since the Whitlam Government, every new government (save for the current one) has brought in some type of representative body that should be responsible for guiding Indigenous policy.
“That’s around 50 years of different advisory bodies working with the Government, and what we’ve observed is that there hasn’t necessarily been the change that Indigenous people have asked for. Many Indigenous Australians still feel disempowered from making decisions about their own lives.”
In relation to the Voice to Parliament, Dr McDowall says much came out of the process of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which was developed through dialogues with thousands of Indigenous Australians around the country. “It brought out the idea that there needed to be a body that was enshrined in the Constitution so that Indigenous policies and affairs weren’t as susceptible to the Government’s agendas.
“Professor Megan Davis, who chaired the Referendum Council’s sub-committee, wrote in an essay, ‘what the State gives, the State can take away’. It exemplifies the position that Indigenous people find themselves in.
“In our subject, we discuss how, on one hand, this referendum has the potential to bring a stronger voice to Parliament. It could establish a better decision-making process through which Indigenous people have informed input into the legal decisions that impact their lives.
“We also discuss how, on the other hand, self-determination exists outside of political narratives. It is made up of the individual decisions that Indigenous Australians make every day. Indigenous people have always had agency, and this agency expresses itself in everyday choices, including trying to negotiate better conditions with introduced governments.”