Why I no longer support #changethedate

Aboriginals communities stage a protest on Australia Day

This article is reprinted from the Aboriginal-led website IndigenousX. Please consider donating to their patreon.

This will also be reprinted in our upcoming magazine on theme of ‘International Perspectives.’ You can subscribe to our magazine here.

You want a day to celebrate Australia. I want an Australia that’s worth celebrating.

In the past I have supported the #changethedate campaign.

Until recently, when you searched ‘change the date’ on Google in Australia the first entry was even an article I wrote a few years back titled ‘Why we should change the date ofAustralia Day’.

It is still the most successful article on this website, by far.

I had hoped that there were enough Australians who would agree that celebrating Invasion is a pretty shit thing to do, and that changing the date could provide a catalyst for creating a country worthy of celebration. However, after seeing the rise of the #changethedate campaign I have come to the opinion that there are too many people who seem to think that the problem with Australia Day rests solely on the day we celebrate it, not with what we are celebrating.

I don’t really feel that Australia, where we sit right now, is worth celebrating.

Not just the actions of 230 years ago, or a century ago, or 50 or even 15 years ago that are problematic.

It is those things that exist today that are so problematic that I couldn’t in good faith celebrate our nation as a whole. A lot of that is tied up in our denial of history and our collective refusal to make any meaningful steps to reconcile it, but it extends beyond that too.

A simple observation would be to point out that there are only two events where we can be guaranteed to see white people wearing flag capes – on Australia Day and at neo-Nazi rallies.

Moving an overly politicised and problematic day to another date won’t change that.

A country that is content with Indigenous incarceration rates sometimes going up to as high as 100% in individual prisons, even though we represent 3% of the population, is not one I really want to celebrate anyway, regardless of what date it is on.

Especially not when you look at those incarcerated often dealing with issues of FASD, severe hearing loss, intergenerational trauma, or abuse at the hands of the state.

Many people whose only real crime is being poor; poor in a country made wealthy of the backs of Indigenous peoples’ dispossession, exploitation and exclusion from the opportunities created within colony.

A country that refuses to ever hold authorities to account for the deaths of Indigenous people in custody is one that does not deserve a party.

And that’s just scratching the surface of issues to do with incarceration. There are countless other issues in countless other areas across the colony in health, education, media, housing… you name it.

We have people homeless on their homelands while billions have been ripped out of those same lands through mining.

We have communities whose water is poisoned.

People who are routinely punished for not applying for jobs that don’t exist.

We have people whose languages were stolen from their parents and grandparents and today we act like teaching people their languages in school would somehow be doing them a disservice.

We have corporates who we applaud for hiring Indigenous people even if the government has to pay them to do it.

We acknowledge the traditional owners at events, but we don’t acknowledge what happened to change them from ‘owners’ to ‘traditional owners’.

How many of us even know what happened right under our feet to make that change? In detail. Do you know the names? Do you know the sacred sites and the massacre sites?

How can we acknowledge what we don’t even know?

That is not to say that there aren’t amazing and beautiful people, places and actions all across Australia that are worthy of celebration, but most of those things for me exist in spite of the colonial project, not because of it.

We have wonderful slogans of a fair go for all, or of being a lucky country. For years we have had politicians ignore racism by calling Australia ‘the most successful multicultural country on earth’, but now that they are trying to move away from the spirit of multiculturalism to a more open admittance that the Australian-ness of any non-white migrant is always conditional, and that their citizenship can and will be withdrawn at a minute’s notice. In this environment even the lie of being multicultural has needed to be downgraded to ‘the most successful migrant nation’.

These are the lies Australia tells itself, not to aspire to a greater future, but to deny our past and our present. This is why we changed the International Day of the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and made it Harmony Day instead. Not because we had eliminated racial discrimination, but because we wanted to pretend that it doesn’t exist.

This is what Australia does with its symbolic gestures. It uses them to pretend that no further changes are required.

And that is why I cannot in good conscience support #changethedate anymore. If public pressure for changing the date grows to sufficient level I don’t doubt that the major parties would do a 180 to support it. But because it would be a responsive vote grab rather than reflecting any sincerely belief or aspirations for a better country, they would continue to dismiss and undermine Indigenous aspirations and to avoid the tough questions of Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination.

So, change the country first, and then we can talk about a date.

Show me a country with a Treaty or Treaties that are robust. A country with meaningful Indigenous representation in decision making that affects us, at the local and the national level.

Show a me a country where the greatest areas for Indigenous representation aren’t in prisons, child removal, and suicide.

Show me a country that acknowledges not just its white supremacist origins, but it’s current state. A country that fights to eradicate racism and understands that we must be eternally vigilant against its resurgence once it is removed.

Show me a country that I can be proud of, that I can teach my children to be proud of, where they can grow up confident in the knowledge that this country doesn’t see their very existence as a problem to be solved, and then I will talk about what could be a good date in the calendar year to throw a party for how awesome the country is. Because right now, I just don’t see a country worth celebrating, and I’m not willing to change the date in the hopes that it might come next year, or the year after that.

Every year more and media orgs at large plays #changethedate for clicks and sensationalism rather than to highlight issues or foster dialogue. Political parties pounce on it with such breathtaking hypocrisy that in the same breath they talk about being a free country and in the next about forcing local councils to hold celebrations and about dress codes for citizenship ceremonies. They hide behind a faux support of migrants to mask their support for white nationalism.

And for the record, the 26th of January will always remain Invasion Day, and Survival Day, and a Day of Mourning, because #LestWeForget.

Hopefully though, one day, Australia might become a country that I could celebrate, but only if we name the changes that need to occur, and we work towards achieving them. Changing the date is one of the final steps one that list, not one of the first.

But even then, the goal should not be so that we can ‘reconcile’, or that we can all have a party together some day on a given date. It needs to be less about appeasing white guilt and more about supporting Indigenous empowerment.

The goal is a country that does not treat Indigenous people as a threat but instead recognises and respects the unique status of Indigenous peoples in Australia, and strives to weave that in to the national identity, decision making processes, and day to day life of the colony – even where that means some Indigenous people choose to withdraw from the communities and institutions that have so long rejected and disenfranchised us and create our own instead.

Luke Pearson is the founder of IndigenousX.

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