• Share

The Voice shines a light on recognition and reconciliation for all First Nations Peoples: What role will you play?

9 August 2023

Australia's upcoming referendum vote on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament sheds a light on the challenges of reconciliation and recognition faced by Indigenous Peoples globally.

By Danielle Martin, Social Performance Director, ICMM

As we celebrate the World’s Indigenous Peoples this week, a potentially groundbreaking moment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples has been subject to debate here in Australia. The upcoming referendum vote on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice to Parliament proposes an advisory mechanism to the Executive Government in the Country’s constitution, recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and giving them a say on matters that affect them.

Despite Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples presence dating back at least 65,000 years, making them one of the oldest continuing living cultures in the world, they have been seeking recognition and the ability to have a say in their own affairs for more than a century – having rights to vote denied until 1984 despite, even, many providing ultimate service to this country in the First and Second World Wars.

In 2017, a watershed moment occurred at Uluru when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples met to discuss recognition and reform. The outcome was the Uluru Statement from the Heart, inviting Australians to establish a First Nations voice enshrined in the Constitution, alongside a commission for agreement-making and truth-telling about their history.

While this debate may be happening in Australia, it reflects on challenges of recognition and reconciliation of Indigenous Peoples across the globe. Indeed, it reflects also on broader issues of inclusivity and equity for under-represented and minority peoples. The mining industry has similarly been slowly walking the path of recognition, reconciliation and inclusion of Indigenous Peoples in decision-making about mining impacts on their lands, ways of life, and present and future opportunities. There is no doubt that missteps (some giant) have been, and continue to be, taken on this path, and on too frequent an occasion, the paths walked by industry and Traditional Owners, and local communities, deviates some distance. But we must also acknowledge the steps that have been made towards reconciliation and mutually beneficial relationships that show that we can move forward and hopefully, over time, those paths will draw closer and merge.

In 2013 ICMM, representing around a third of the mining industry, updated a Position Statement on Indigenous Peoples and Mining, which was first developed in 2008. It requires ICMM members to respect the rights, interests, special connections to lands and waters, and perspectives of Indigenous Peoples where mining occurs, and to seek the meaningful participation of Indigenous communities in decision-making, including pursuing consent where possible. This was a step forward but with the decade that has passed since, it is obvious that expectations, on both sides, of the roles each should play towards recognition, reconciliation and inclusion of Indigenous Peoples have evolved. Further forward movement is required.

Within the industry and from outside, there are increasing calls for the sector to do more given the influence it has to support and uphold Indigenous Peoples’ rights, consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).  In September 2007, UNDRIP was adopted by the UN General Assembly with an aim to promote Indigenous Peoples enjoyment of rights on an equal basis, focussed on the rights to self‐determination, to be recognised as distinct peoples, to free, prior and informed consent, and to be free from discrimination. That was 16 years ago. The Voice debate in Australia reflects the effort still required to bring the full aspiration of the declaration to fruition.

Similarly, within ICMM, we are working to review our 2013 Position Statement to strengthen our members‘ commitments to engagement with and the participation of Indigenous Peoples in mining. This complements our efforts to promote diversity, equity and inclusion, for women, under-represented and minority groups in the mining and metals industry and the communities we are a part of.  In June, we announced a collective commitment from our 25 member companies to prioritise and accelerate efforts to eliminate discrimination, harassment, and assault, signalling an aim to influence positive cultural change across society. Part of this commitment is for each member to set goals to eliminate all forms of harassment and discriminatory behaviours. Reporting against these goals will help to demonstrate progress. Similarly, the same is true of our work with Indigenous Peoples and mining; we have the opportunity, actually the responsibility, to elevate Traditional Owners’ voices, perspectives and decision-making, and those of local communities also, and to foster the relationships of those we impact the most.

The Voice marks a critical point in Australia, but the substantive issues it represents mark a critical point for Indigenous Peoples around the world. In a number of jurisdictions, there are significant conversations ongoing about the rights of Indigenous Peoples. Brazil’s proposal of Bill 490 which, if passed, could curtail the right of Indigenous Peoples to their traditional land, and Canada’s Bill-C38 highlighting the need to address historical inequities , shedding light on the need to address inequities present in the more than 100 year old Indian, Act which stripped First Nations people of their treaty rights and Indian status for enfranchisement, are just some examples of this. Indigenous Peoples must be forefront in matters impacting them, and acknowledging and righting the past is essential to progress. Indigenous Peoples can only achieve equitable agreements with mining companies in a broader social, political, and economic context that is fundamentally equitable too. And hopefully, the upcoming referendum vote will pave the way for this in Australia.

All of us have a role to play. And at these times, when debate is rife and there are a whirlwind of opinions, our roles must extend also to informing ourselves against misinformation and prioritising the voices that need to be heard. Every one of us has a role in encouraging the companies we work for, our colleagues and friends, to meaningfully participate in reconciliation processes, and contribute to building more inclusive, culturally respectful, equitable workplaces and communities.

And on the Voice debate, I will be voting yes.

Useful Resources:

  • https://voice.gov.au/

  • https://www.reconciliation.org.au/reconciliation/support-a-voice-to-parliament/ - Reconciliation Australia page

  • https://ulurustatement.org/the-statement/