Recognise journey talks constitutional reform with Bega community

The Journey to Recognition relay visited the region last week.

“Recognise” ambassador Anaiwan Elder Steve Doogan Widders sat with residents inside the Bega civic centre on Thursday to discuss the path towards constitutional recognition of Indigenous cultures and lore.

“Imagine a world where all the kids were looked after and everyone is treated with respect,” Mr Widders said.

“That’s what it was like in Australia before 1770 under unwritten Aboriginal constitution.”

Mr Widders said members of the non-Indigenous community were concerned about the wording of any potential referendum question and the impact it might have in moving towards treaty negotiations.

Eden’s BJ Cruse voiced his concern that what the government was putting on the table was unique and has never been done anywhere else in the world – and he was worried it would not end prejudice.

“What has government done to change the mood of the population today?” he asked during the meeting.

Djiringanj Elder Colleen Dixon said she felt many non-Indigenous Australians were still confused and that it was unclear to her what constitutional recognition would mean in terms of racism and treaty negotiations.

She said she had received a phone call from federal MP Mike Kelly ahead of the event expressing interest in her views on a treaty.

While the community debate was centered on land rights and treaty, Mr Widders said there is no reason both cannot be achieved, with recognition the first step.

“We were there to get the point across that constitutional reform can be easily diverted to treaty,” he said.

“If you’re against this recognition then you should be telling the Referendum Council.”

The council’s 16 Indigenous and non-Indigenous members will advise the prime minister and opposition leader on the movement’s progress and the steps needed for a referendum.

Mr Widders said the people of the Bega Valley have the right to self determination.

“They should start getting together and talking about treaty if that’s what they want to do. Work out what sort of elements they want in a treaty because it’s fine for people to have a treaty, but you have to be prepared.”

The Referendum Council will also be hosting regional workshops.