Tent Embassies sovereignty movement is 'Union' business

The struggle to get Indigenous sovereignty rights recognised in this country has a lot of power working against it. There is a big need for the broader union movement to show its support.

One very positive thing to come out of the Brisbane Embassy eviction, has been the reports of Union solidarity shown towards the Tent Embassy. Organisers from the ETU and the BLF formed a human barricade (pictured) in front of the embassy to try and stop the sanctioned police invasion.

Fences had been erected around the site with the assistance of these Unions. Motions of Solidarity and Support were passed yesterday at both the ACTU Congress (forwarded and seconded by the RTBU and ETU) and the University of Queensland NTEU Branch.'

Celeste Liddle NTEU 17th May 2012

As many are no doubt aware, on the 16/5/12, 200 Police Officers, on the orders of QLD Premier Campbell Newman, and Brisbane Lord Mayor Graham Quirk descended upon Musgrave Park to forcibly remove the Aboriginal Tent Embassy that had been there since March 2012.

The reason given by both parties was that the area needed to be cleared for a festival. The attitude of these politicians towards the Tent Embassy participants was appalling and offensive, with Newman referring to them as "squatters", and the BCC threatening arrest for "trespassing".

With sovereignty never ceded in this country by the Indigenous peoples, and with a treaty never reached between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, how appropriate is it for any politician to refer to a sovereignty movement conducted by Indigenous Australians as "trespassing"? The National Indigenous Unit condemns the violence and brutality ordered by these politicians to forcibly remove people struggling for recognition of Indigenous Sovereignty and sends our respect and support to those involved at Musgrave Park.

One very positive bit of news to come out of this event however, has been the reports of Union solidarity shown towards the Tent Embassy. A photo was circulated yesterday showing organisers from the ETU and the BLF forming a human barricade in front of the embassy to try and stop the sanctioned police invasion. Additionally, fences had been erected around the site with the assistance of these Unions. Motions of Solidarity and Support were passed yesterday at both the ACTU Congress (forwarded and seconded by the RTBU and ETU) and the University of Queensland NTEU Branch.

It is anticipated that a similar motion will be discussed at next week's NTEU National Indigenous Forum. A number of Indigenous people, both involved directly in the Musgrave Tent Embassy, but also from the general community have praised these shows of solidarity from the Unions and highlighted how important it is for the Unions to continue to show their support. Indigenous Australians make up only 2.5% of the total population, and support from the Unions helps to move our concerns from issues that Politicians can simply dismiss as "fringe" into the public sphere as genuine concerns of the broader population.

Poignantly, this history of Union support was highlighted yesterday also at the ACTU Congress when members of the ACTU Indigenous Committee spoke of the support that helped lead to the successful 1967 Referendum.

There are currently a number of Tent Embassies operating across the country to raise awareness of Indigenous Sovereignty, and the original Tent Embassy in Canberra celebrated its 40 year anniversary in January. Every single one of these Tent Embassies has been threatened by Political leaders with police action, and organisations such as Menzies House have run online petitions to try and get Tent Embassies shut down.

Despite years of Indigenous action and some forward momentum being achieved it unfortunately appears that, when considering the attitudes of Politicians and of the media, the struggle to get Indigenous sovereignty rights recognised in this country has a lot of power working against it. There is a big need for the broader union movement to show its support.

To this end, the National Indigenous Unit is encouraging branches and divisions to support not only the tent embassy at Musgrave Park (and also condemn the actions of the QLD Government and the BCC), but also to throw their support behind any Tent Embassies that may be operating in their cities/towns. Should branches and divisions pass motions of solidarity, please send copies of these motions to the National Indigenous Organiser at cliddle@nteu.org.au.

Should members wish to individually indicate their support, the National Indigenous Unit urges people to not only engage with their local Tent Embassy but also to send letters supporting Indigenous sovereignty into local newspapers or to their local MPs to help keep the discussion going.

Finally, please see below a documentary made by Aboriginal filmmaker Frances Peters-Little on the setting up of the original Tent Embassy in Canberra, and the lead up to the 20 year anniversary of this movement. On viewing what was being said back then with regards to Indigenous sovereignty, it will become only too apparent how little the opinions of the politicians and a good portion of the public have shifted in 40 years. With Indigenous sovereignty being properly recognised comes broader public respect of Indigenous peoples and knowledges and as a union dedicated to education it is incredibly fitting that we support these struggles.

 Tent Embassy (part 1 of 4)

 Tent Embassy (part 2 of 4)

 Tent Embassy (part 3 of 4)

 Tent Embassy (part 4 of 4)