A National Makarrata


A national Makarrata has been widely discussed in the past year. Although the concept of Makarrata has been in public and political consciousness for decades, it recently been brought back into the spotlight following the 2017 National Constitutional Convention.

On 25-27 May, 2017 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community leaders met on Anangu land in Central Australia following months of consultations with First Nations communities across the country lead by the Referendum Council. Although many perspectives and issues were brought to the table, several shared goals were obtained which were delivered in the Uluru Statement From the Heart. A primary goal was to create a Makarrata, with the process to take place under the supervision of a Makarrata Commission. A focal point of such a Commisssion would be building and maintaining fair and truthful relationships with all Australians, including all First Peoples, as well as creating a just future based on self-determination. 

See also:  1 Voice Uluru

 In response, the Referendum Council released a statement calling on the government for two main goals.


Uluru Statement of the Heart

Uluru Statement of the Heart

1.  To have the voice of First Nations enshrined in the constitution

Despite an expansive range of perspectives and demands coming from First Peoples during the National Constitutional Convention, attendees unanimously expressed the need for meaningful engagement with government. What this would look like is still unknown. Much like a Makarrata, further consultation with First Peoples across the country is necessary.

The Recognition Campaign which began in 2012 pushed for Recognition of First Peoples in the constitution, yet this has not been achieved. The Uluru Statement of the Heart set out that recognition alone is not enough to provide opportunities for healing and reconciliation. Instead, First Peoples should be able to significantly inform decisions affecting their lands, languages, cultures and opportunities.

In October 2017Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull rejected this recommendation, stating, ‘it would inevitably become seen as a third chamber of parliament’. This is misleading asthe structure of an enshrined voice for First Peoples in parliament is not yet clear.

A range of civil society organisations have published an open statementcalling on the Prime Minister to reconsider his government’s position. To read this statement or sign the petition to support the Uluru Statement from the Heart, click here.


2.  The establishment of a Makarrata commission

The federal government has not announced any decisions on whether it will consider this recommendation. At the moment it is no longer on the national agenda. Support the creation of a Makarrata Commission here.

Makarrata does not translate directly into English. It is a Yolnu (north west Arnhem land) word which describes a process of conflict resolution and peacemaking. Here is an explanation of the process by Dr G.

“The Principles of makarrata have guided Yolngu people in North East Arnhem Land through difficult disputes for centuries and they are useful as a guide to the current challenge.
First, the disputing parties must be brought together. Then, each party , led by their elders must speak carefully and calmly about the dispute. They must put the facts on the table and air their grievances. If a person speaks wildly, or out of turn, he or she is sent away and shall not be included any further in the process. Those who come for vengeance or for no other purposes, will also be sent away, for they can only disrupt the process.
The leaders must always seek and full understanding of the dispute: what lies behind it; who is responsible; what each party wants, and all things that are normal to peacemaking efforts. When that understanding is arrived at, then a settlement can be agreed upon. This settlement is also a symbolic reckoning –an action that says to the world that from now on and forever the dispute is settled; that the dispute no longer exists, it is finished. And from the honesty of the process and the submission of both parties to finding the truth, then the dispute is ended. In past times a leader came forward and accepted a punishment and this leader once punished was then immediately taken into the heart of the aggrieved clan. The leader’s wounds were healed by the men and women of the aggrieved clan, and the leader was given gifts and shown respect –and this former foe, who had caused pain and suffering to people, would live with those that had been harmed and the peace was made – not just for them but for future generations.
In this way the parties were able to come together, to trade, to marry, to work together and make their lives together. The dispute was over and peace and harmony were achieved.’’

A Makarrata is used to move forward in solidarity. It is not only an agreement, but shows ongoing respect.