January 26 is a day of mourning


January 26 has been a day of mourning for First Nations peoples for far longer than it’s been a nationally gazetted day of ’celebration‘. In the wake of this year’s Day of Mourning, Senators Dorinda Cox and Lidia Thorpe share their hope that we can come together to move forward together as a nation.

By Senator Lidia Thorpe and Senator Dorinda Cox

26 January is not a day of celebration, it is a Day of Mourning for our people.

Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and equal respect, but we still have a racist system that unfairly targets people based on their identity and blocks them from self determination and implementation of solutions that we know work setting their own course. We have aggressive policing of First Nations children, we have controls on what our people can spend their income support on and discrimination when applying for jobs.

We refuse to celebrate these things.

We mourn the deaths of so many of our people during 234 years of oppression and violence by the colonial system that continues to perpetuate state sanctioned violence and kill us. We mourn the attempted destruction of our languages, ceremony and cultures, the oldest continuing cultures on earth.

The first day of mourning was organised by First Nations Elders and activists on 26 January 1938, the 150th anniversary of the colonisation of this continent. We are honoured to be following in the footsteps of these First Nation leaders, our ancestors and our Elders as our mourning continues.

We wish we wouldn’t have to. We wish our people wouldn’t continue to die in preventable circumstances such as in judicial custody. We wish we wouldn’t have to face yet another January of colonial flag-waving, of heightened racism, of collective selective amnesia of continued oppression in all its forms.  We wish that after more than 200 years of colonisation, people wouldn’t think that January 26 is a day completely free of context.

We know that we can’t change the past but we can all be part of a just and fairer society in the future. For that, we all need to work together, whether we’ve been here for five years or five thousand generations. We can co-produce  a system that prioritises equality for everyone.

Let’s begin by acknowledging that 26 January is a day of deep mourning for our people, but it is essential that we go much beyond that. We need to work together and sit with each other to reckon with the truth of the foundation of this country but we also need to build a vision based on hope. We can do this by developing a Treaty or Treaties with First Nations people, clans, and nations.

A Treaty is a legal agreement, like a contract, that would govern relationships with First Nations people based on mutual respect, meaningful understanding, and an unwavering  shared commitment to a better future.

Governments have long recognised the need for a Treaty. The Governor of Tasmania recommended to the Colonial Office in 1832 that a Treaty be negotiated to ‘prevent a long-continued warfare’ with First Nations people. Still, no Treaties have been entered into.

Our people want peace; we deserve peace. The understanding of why we need a Treaty is older than the Federation. Developing a Treaty or Treaties is the unfinished work that we get to complete together.

While we mourn, we are also full of hope that we can come together to turn this Day of Mourning into a day of healing so we can move forward together as a nation.

Lidia Thorpe is a Greens senator for Victoria and Gunnai Gunditjmara woman. Dorinda Cox is a Greens senator for WA and Yamatji Noongar woman.

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