A statement from Yingiya Guyula MLA for Nhulunbuy
(from his MLA Facebook page 30 Nov)
‘Response to Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory
In my submission to the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory I stated “We Yolngu people are Sovereign People. Every child removed from our society is not being helped or disciplined, they are being stolen and damaged.
The Royal Commission report does not put forward strong recommendations to protect the rights of sovereign children who have their own working system of law.
We Yolngu have our own judges, police, and our own governance. Most of the recommendations of this report do not apply to our children. For example, we are not interested in a better version of Don Dale, although I acknowledge this might be important for others in the Northern Territory.
Yolngu children are the responsibility of their community and their leaders. The system is already there. The first 10 years of the child is a matter of touching, feeling and tasting, exploring, learning language – finding out what they can say and can’t say. Finding out what they can do and can’t do. It’s a time of exploration and observing and finding out. Everyone around the campfire is responsible for keeping the child safe – both the grandparents helping the mother how to raise the child and giving the child their languages.
When a child is born, the young mother is still learning how to look after her child too: there is support from senior women leaders – such as her mukul-bapa (mother-in-law) and maari, ngathi, momu, and maari-mu (grandparents).
When the child reaches the age of about 10, they are seen as young people who need to start learning through discipline/raypirri. At this time the boys and the girls are separated. It’s now time for education.
They start to learn about kinship, language, and respectful practice: including avoidance of sisters and brothers and in-laws, hunting, respect for elders and listening to parents.
Traditionally both boys and girls take part in sacred ceremonies that pass responsibility to children and rules about the right skin relationships and respectful relationships, as well as other important responsibilities. During this time they are not being left by parents they are under the guardianship of their elders, who work to support the parents.
This can happen now if senior elders have the authority and resources to carry on this work.
Boys can start to walk with leaders in the community, girls start to take the pathway that the women leaders give them. This gives lots of discipline and teaching to the young people.
When they reach about 18, another level of education exists.
These education and discipline systems are enshrined in Yolngu Law and the Yolngu systems need to be supported, resourced and recognised as the way that Yolngu parents, families and leaders grow their children.
The Royal Commission conversation didn’t really make it deep into communities, to senior leaders and elders of all clans – so that the Commissioners could understand the systems that we already have to protect children.
The Royal Commission needed to understand that our ability to protect our children is hampered by foreign authorities taking the authority of senior leaders, overriding our ability to act and use our age old system of governance.
When we talk about working in partnership with the Government on these matters, we mean a partnership that recognises our sovereignty and working together diplomatically – not an ongoing system of foreigners telling us what to do and imposing a foreign system on us. This will never work and has never worked.
Our Law continues to be undermined at every level of Government, including by this Royal Commission now. The Royal Commission recommendations do not go far enough to return authority to Sovereign leaders and they could be used as another layer of oppression, whereby sovereign nations are still not being given the outright power and authority to make decisions for themselves.
We want the responsibility for Child Protection handed back to the leaders and the resources not just given to Aboriginal organisations but the local Yolngu leaders should be able to control resourcing in their communities, to ensure programs meet the needs, aims, and desires of the people.
Yolngu Rom Ngurrungu and Treaty Now!”‘