Should Indigenous Australian performers boycott Brisbane 2032?

Should Indigenous Australian performers boycott the opening and closing ceremonies at the Brisbane 2032 Olympic and Paralympic Games?

They are likely to be invited. They perform at most international events held in Australia and they played a significant role in the ceremonies at Sydney 2000.

Why should they boycott?

Because Indigenous participation in ceremonies at international events allows Australia to pretend to the world that Indigenous people are treated fairly in this country. They are not.

Because international pressure is often the best way to create change in a society. If performers boycotted, attention would be drawn to the issues which prompted the boycott. The Australian government and people might be embarrassed into acting.

Because sport matters to Australia. Boycotting at a sporting event might have more impact than a conventional protest march, petition, submission to parliament or general media coverage of the pertinent issues.

Because the very real issues facing Aboriginal people on a daily basis are far more important than an expensive pre-sporting extravaganza.

Boycotting the ceremonies could be a powerful way to draw attention to their struggles.

What are the issues?

The most accurate description of the issues facing Indigenous people in Australia today is encapsulated in the Ulruru Statement from the Heart.

Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tribes were the first sovereign Nations of the Australian continent and its adjacent islands, and possessed it under our own laws and customs. This our ancestors did, according to the reckoning of our culture, from the Creation, according to the common law from ‘time immemorial’, and according to science more than 60,000 years ago. 

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. It has never been ceded or extinguished, and co-exists with the sovereignty of the Crown. 

How could it be otherwise? That peoples possessed a land for sixty millennia and this sacred link disappears from world history in merely the last two hundred years? 

With substantive constitutional change and structural reform, we believe this ancient sovereignty can shine through as a fuller expression of Australia’s nationhood. 

Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future. 

These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the torment of our powerlessness

We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country. 

We call for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution. 

Makarrata is the culmination of our agenda: the coming together after a struggle. It captures our aspirations for a fair and truthful relationship with the people of Australia and a better future for our children based on justice and self-determination. 

We seek a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making between governments and First Nations and truth-telling about our history. 

In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.

Yes, I just copied and pasted the statement, because I’m not Indigenous and I’m not going to speak for Aboriginal people. Too many Whitefellas have done that in the past, and continue to do so. I’m not Indigenous, and that’s why I posed this idea as a question. It’s not my decision. I just wonder if it is a move that would be worth considering and one that might improve the lives of Aboriginal people.

As well as incarceration, Indigenous Australians rank behind the rest of the population in indicators such as physical and mental health, life expectancy, literacy and numeracy, employment, financial wellbeing and general education.

Interestingly, similar concerns were expressed in the Bark Petition put together by the Yolngu people of Yirrkala in northern Australia and sent to federal parliament. This happened in 1963.

So, would it work?

That’s a very good question. Surely it would have an impact. It would attract publicity and may force the Australian government to and people to act on recommendations that have been outlined in countless reports, but have never been implemented. It would also provoke a lot of anger from narrow-minded Australians, but that anger exists, and is expressed freely, already. It could backfire, and expose the dark underbelly of racism in Australia which could set back the fight for equality.

If it didn’t work, performers would miss out on participating on the world stage, which is as much a pinnacle for artists as it is for athletes.

Participation might be more powerful. Indigenous performers may be able to negotiate the right to say what they want to say in their performances, and to shed light on the challenges they face, through their performance. Somehow, though, it is unlikely the Australian government, International Olympic Committee (IOC) and Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) would have the courage to let Indigenous Australians tell the truth.

The fact that the authorities can control what the performers present to the world is another reason to boycott.

A position of power?

It might work, because Indigenous Australians appear to hold some power in this situation. If the Indigenous component was removed from the ceremonies, what would replace it?

  • Stockmen in Drizabones and Akubras? Cliched, and done at Sydney 2000. Plus, Brumbies are destroying Alpine national parks.
  • Lawn mowers and Hills Hoists? Cliched and done in Sydney.
  • The migrant story? Australia puts some migrants in off-shore detention, which constitutes human rights abuses. Plus, we are witnessing a resurgence in exclusive patriotism and white nationalism in Australia, especially in Queensland, so we can’t truly claim to embrace multiculturalism in this country.
  • The Barrier Reef? It might be completely destroyed by 2032.
  • Pavlova? A dessert with a Russian name that some people claim was invented in New Zealand.
  • My Island Home? Done in Sydney, belongs to Warumpi Band.

We can’t boast about our natural environment, because we’re destroying most of it. We can’t boast about technology, because we can barely get the National Broadband Network to work. Nikki Webster’s too old to be suspended from a trapeze wire and we can’t resurrect the giant kangaroo, the foam eskies, Ned Kelly or marching bands. John Farnham, though, is always willing to make a comeback.

Thus, will the opening ceremony consist of a case of VB and a packet of Tim Tams in the middle of a massive stadium?

In all seriousness though, do Indigenous people hold some power in the composition of an opening or closing ceremony at Brisbane 2032? The show might look quite empty, cliched and shallow without them. This, should the threat of a boycott be made now, so that the nation has time to fix the problems facing Indigenous people before 2032?

How will we know it has worked?

When the demands of the Uluru Statement from the Heart are met. This would take years to happen.

Will they need to boycott?

Will the situation have improved so much by 2032 that Indigenous people can proudly display their culture to the rest of the world and enjoy prosperous lives long after the Olympic flame is extinguished?

Let’s hope so.