Uluru in central Australia is one of the sacred sites of the Pitjantjatjara Anangu people. Photo: Tchami
Opinion | World

Peter d'Errico: Asserting sovereignty under the watchful eyes of domination

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia are asserting their sovereignty after more than 200 years of colonization. Retired professor Peter d'Errico reads the Uluru Statement from the Heart, developed at sacred Uluru after talks among indigenous communities, and wonders if the effort can move forward under the watchful eyes of another dominating sovereign:
The Uluru Statement suggests a notion of sovereignty as shared life—not supremacy and domination: “This sovereignty is a spiritual notion: the ancestral tie between the land, or ‘mother nature’, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were born therefrom, remain attached thereto, and must one day return thither to be united with our ancestors. This link is the basis of the ownership of the soil, or better, of sovereignty” [original emphasis].

We may read the Uluru Statement as a re-understanding of self-determination that departs from conventional definitions of supreme power, domination, and superiority. This possibility deserves careful thought, not only to resolve Australian colonization, but also as a reexamination of the Gordian knot of state sovereignty binding global politics in a zero-sum situation: Every state acts as if it has a supreme right to coerce obedience from its subjects and to engage in conflicts with every other state. Thomas Hobbes said the “state of nature” was a “war of all against all”; the evidence points the other way: state civilization produces universal, unending wars.

If I’m reading it right, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples are willing to recognize a shared sovereignty with the colonial invaders because even the invaders—by now—have been born from earth, are “attached thereto,” and “must one day return”… in the same lands. But we must be cautious; the conundrums persist: The Statement’s call for “a rightful place in our own country [and] power over our destiny” collides with the assertion that these changes will cause “our children…will walk in two worlds….” The Statement suggests “a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood,” but expresses “aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia."

Read More on the Story:
Peter d'Errico: The Uluru Statement: Grappling at Sovereignty Without Domination (Indian Country Media Network August 17, 2017)