10 First Nations women+ on why they are saying ‘YES’ to a Voice

by Verve

Six years on from the Uluru Statement from the Heart, we are fast approaching a historic referendum on whether to change the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing a body called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. 

Despite the fact that over 80% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people support The Voice, the airwaves, and many of our newsfeeds, continue to be dominated by the loud and vocal voices of a few, and misinformation abound. 

As a company founded by women+, and run by people who care deeply about making space for underrepresented and marginalised voices, and challenging the traditional, patriarchal and racist status quo — the painful irony of First Nations voices, especially those of women and non-binary people, being obscured is not lost on us. 

This is a time for listening. This is a time for learning. This is a time for action.

What we also know is that there once was a time when people campaigned against women having a vote, and their arguments are eerily similar to those we are seeing from the ‘no’ camp.

And while we acknowledge and respect the concerns of First Nations, progressive ‘no’ voters — we will be voting with a resounding yes on October 14th, and we won’t be stopping there. We will continue to show up on October 15th, and everyday thereafter, to support true self-determination and justice for First Nations peoples. Be it through Paying the Rent, promoting Blak-owned businesses, or sharing the wealth. 

So, in full use of our platform — one that those who’ve gone before us fought hard for us to have — we wanted to share directly from 10 proud and powerful First Nations women on what The Voice means to them and why they will be voting ‘yes’ on October 14.

Professor Megan Davis (Cobble Cobble)

Constitutional law professor and proud Cobble Cobble woman, Professor Megan Davis, has been one of the most prominent First Nations voices for the ‘yes’ campaign, having spoken powerfully about the impact of colonialism on her own family.

“The consequences of ‘No’ are dire for our communities. There is no way to recover from a ‘No’. You cannot go back to the way things are. It will have a massively detrimental impact on the mental health and wellbeing of our Aboriginal children who have to front up to school on Monday, October 16 feeling rejected, with proof that they don’t belong in Australian democracy and society. And having to accept a new, ingrained Australian value: that it’s socially acceptable to lie.

“Our jarjums are growing up in an Australia of inclusion and acceptance and diversity. They are growing up in a country of fellow Aussie kids who learn about their Aboriginal footprint in kindy and primary school. Aussie kids now know the name of the First Nation on which they learn and live. How can my Country be a ‘No’? This cannot be how it ends.”

As a Professor of Law and the Pro Vice-Chancellor First Nations at UNSW Sydney, Professor Megan Davies believes that the laws contained in The Voice will provide structural legal frameworks to support her people, and continue the work of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

“We issued the Uluru Statement as a hand of friendship, an olive branch and an expression of love. Once they hear or read the Statement, and they understand the extensive process that led to it through the Uluru Dialogues, they are much more open to it and supportive of a YES vote. First Nations Peoples have faith in their fellow Australians.”

Yet to read the Uluru Statement from the Heart? Now is the time ↗

Minister Linda Burney (Wiradjuri)

Questioning how much longer must First Nations people wait for recognition, proud Wiradjuri woman and Minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, addressed the National Press Club address, sharing her story, and laying out her vision for what she believes The Voice can deliver.

Describing herself as a “Wiradjuri woman, a mother, teacher, the daughter of an Aboriginal folk singer and a teenage tearaway of Scottish descent,” Minister Burney has been inundated with racist abuse while on the road for the Referendum campaign. 

“Racism takes its toll. But I will never allow racism to weaken or diminish my resolve to see Australia embrace constitutional recognition through a Voice.”

Watch Minister Burney’s address to the National Press Club ↗

Professor Marcia Langton (Yiman, Bidjara)

Not afraid to tackle the ‘no’ campaign head on, Professor Marcia Langton believes that the Voice is the “minimum proposition” and the “barest minimal imaginable” that the government could make to allow First Nations people to make decisions about issues that directly affect them. 

“Here we are in a campaign in which [Opposition Leader] Dutton has run a slogan of: ‘If you don’t know, vote No’ … he could have worked in a bipartisan way to encourage legislation, but he’s been a wrecker.

“Every time the ‘No’ cases raise their arguments, if you start pulling it apart you get down to base racism, I’m sorry to say that’s where it lands, or sheer stupidity.

“If you look at any reputable fact-checker, every one of them says the ‘No’ case is substantially false; they are lying to you.” 

Addressing claims that recognition would ‘divide’ us, not unite us, she shares:

“The Referendum proposal is not about giving some people a greater say than others based on their race. There is no presumption of a singular Indigenous point of view. Instead, by acknowledging our diverse histories, cultures, stories, experiences and challenges, we can begin to work more effectively together to ensure that first Australians thrive – not survive.”

Pat Anderson AO (Alyawarre)

It has been well documented that Australia is the only country with a colonial history akin to Canada, New Zealand and the United States that doesn’t recognise its First People in the Constitution. 

While it can be useful to look around at how other countries are grappling with their colonial past, for Aboriginal Elder and Alyawarre woman Pat Anderson AO, and Chairperson of the Lowitja Institute, this is a uniquely ‘Australian’ situation and the culmination of many years of advocacy by First Nations people.

“This is an Australian situation. It’s not a duplication of what’s happened in Canada or wherever else – with our cousins across the ditch, for example. This is our solution to a very Australian situation. It’s one of the beauties of what we’re about to do.”

Heavily involved in the development of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, Aunty Pat shares how important it is for us to recognise that this is not a government initiative, but something that has come directly from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. And that a Voice should come before a Treaty.

“This isn’t a government initiative. It came from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; the First Peoples of this vast beautiful land that we all share. This has been a long process.

“I am totally convinced that the Voice proposal, which was decided on during and at the end of the whole regional dialogues process, is a guide and can lead us out of this terrible, entangled forest in which we live. I really do believe we’re up for this as a country; that we can do it.”

Kate Russell (Awabakal)

Writing powerfully for Women’s Agenda back in April 2023 about why First Nations people need allies to step up in support of The Voice, proud Awabakal woman Kate Russell wants you to know that your vote is not “FOR us, it’s WITH us”.

“For many non-Indigenous people, it feels counter-intuitive, and even uncomfortable, that they will vote on a reform that is designed so that the Australian Government can make policies with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“What’s more, how should non-Indigenous people respond when there is disagreement between vocal parts of the community? Of course, First Nations communities do not have a homogenous view on the Voice. We are a diverse group and have different opinions on how we want to advance.

“But First Nations people do overwhelmingly support the Voice. About 80% of us in fact.”

Drawing parallels to the marriage equality plebiscite, again we are seeing national debate on a sensitive issue that is causing real harm in communities. Encouraging allies to take responsibility for their own learning and lightening the load of First Nations people when it comes to educating people on The Voice, she shares:

“There is an ever-increasing number of resources available for you to drive your own learning. Employers can play a key role in supporting First Nations staff – no matter what their personal views on the Voice – and supporting employees to engage, to learn and to listen before they vote.”

Curious about the role of business in advancing social change? Hear from majority Aboriginal-owned streetwear company Clothing The Gaps

Image: Laura Thompson (Gunditjmara) CEO & Co-founder and Sarah Sheridan, Deputy CEO & Co-founder, Clothing The Gaps

Dr Josie Douglas (Wardaman)

In the lead up to the Referendum, there have been accusations that calls for a Voice are coming from elites and not ‘regular’ (read: remote and dark-skinned) Indigenous people. Dr Josie Douglas is a Wardaman woman based in Mparntwe (Alice Springs), and the Executive Director of Policy at the Central Land Council

“A Voice in the Constitution would mean an end to remote Aboriginal people being forgotten about because they would have representation.”

Her words are echoed in this powerful video played at a recent meeting of the Indigenous Referendum Working Group by Barbara Shaw, a Kaytetye, Arrernte, Warramunga and Warlpiri woman:

“A Voice in the Constitution will help my community because it will allow us to exercise our rights as Indigenous peoples of this country.”

In contrast to the idea that there’s ‘no need to enshrine the Voice in the Constitution,’ or that ‘it offends the notion of equality’, Dr Josie Douglas shares that:

“Even though in this election we’ve had the highest number of Indigenous people voted into Parliament, we’re still only 3% of the population and so it’s very difficult to influence policies and laws that are being made about Indigenous people.

“Of course, we have our peak organisations. But there’s something much more fundamental to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people having a voice and being able to influence the laws and policies that are made by Parliament. 

“Indigenous people are tired of each new government coming into power, coming up with a different policy setting and different legislation for Aboriginal affairs. It feels that we take one step forward, two steps backwards

“So, the Voice to Parliament is about ensuring that those decisions that impact Indigenous people’s lives are taken out of the realm of politics, out of political ideology, and into the realm of Indigenous people having a say over matters that impact our everyday lives. And that’s whether you’re in a remote community in Central Australia or you’re in a metropolitan urban area.”

Cathy Freeman OAM (Kuku Yalanji, Burri Gubba)

One of this country’s most revered and recognisable athletes, Cathy Freeman OAM, is another First Nations woman who has thrown her support behind the Voice to Parliament. Winning gold in the 400m at the Sydney Olympics in 2000, on her victory lap she famously carried both the Australian and Aboriginal flags as a proud Kuku Yalanji woman on her mother’s side, and Burri Gubba on her father’s. 

“I can’t remember a time when change has felt so urgent, when momentum has been so strong. From small towns to big cities, something is in the air. I know all Australians feel it too.

“We have the chance to be part of a moment that brings people together, to work hard for something that we can all believe in. And right now, each of us can be part of something that really matters. To stand together and to show our support for Australians who need it the most….and to open our hearts and change our future.”

Sally Scales (Pitjantjatjara)

Prolific artist and part of The Uluru Statement Dialogue Leadership team, Sally Scales, is a proud Pitjantjatjara woman from the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara lands or ‘APY’ lands in the northwest corner of South Australia. 

Recently designing a collection of T-shirts as part of a collaboration between The Uluru Statement and The Iconic to raise awareness for the Voice, Scales spoke with Harper’s BAZAAR on what it means to her:

“A First Nations Voice is so important to restart in this country in a way that is much needed. It’s allowing communities to be at the forefront of decision making, it’s allowing us to be at the seat at the table. We’re forever on the menu. We’re always discussed in a way, but we’re without our own input. And that is what the Voice is. 

“Let us be at the table, let us be [the] decision maker. So many issues happen for us — without us. And we’re at a time now where we need to be doing better. We need to be having conversations with communities at the start of the process, not at the end of it.”

Speaking about the many incredible leaders, Elders and women who’ve embraced her and elevated her into their spaces, she shares:

“The thing is, I see myself as a woman in this world, trying to make it a little bit better, trying to make it supportive. I think as women, we have to be supportive of each other. I think that doesn’t happen enough. When you’re given opportunities, it’s also about going ‘hang on, who else can I bring along into this journey? Who else can I support in that space?’ and make sure that remote communities are being heard, because I feel like that sometimes gets lost. I got a power and a privilege and a voice, and it’s about how I use it.”

Dr Amy Thunig (Gomeroi)

Proud Gomeroi person, researcher and author, Dr Amy Thunig, has been actively and proudly supportive of the Uluṟu Statement from the Heart for several years. In their powerful memoir titled Tell Me Again, they reveal the importance of extended family and community networks when navigating the intergenerational trauma resulting from colonisation. When it comes to The Voice, they share:

“I will be voting YES in the upcoming referendum, and I encourage you to also vote ‘YES’ with me on that historic day. If you’re not sure, if you don’t know, now is the time to find out more. If you don’t agree, that’s your business and you can keep it as such. But myself, my household and family? We will be voting YES. It’s time. Voice. Treaty. Truth.” 

Kacey Teerman (Gomeroi)

Sharing the virtual stage on TikTok and Instagram alongside Dr Amy Thunig has been Indigenous Rights campaigner at Amnesty International and proud Gomeroi woman, Kacey Teerman. 

Focusing her efforts on helping people be the best allies they can be in the lead up to the Referendum, Kacey has three hot tips for those supporting a ‘yes’ vote. They are:

  1. Make sure you understand what you’re voting on — if you don’t know, then find out, friends (she recommends starting with the Uluru Statement from the Heart and the yes23 campaign website).
  2. Engage in conversations — if you’re going to vote ‘yes’, meet people where they’re at and have conversations safely and productively with your friends, family, colleagues, and anyone else in your sphere of influence (they can be in-person or online).
  3. Vote yes on October 14 — and it’s about as simple and complicated as that.

History is calling

In reality, we could fill these virtual pages with articles with quotes and resources from dozens and dozens more brilliant First Nations women and non-binary people about their reasons for supporting a Voice to Parliament. From Teela Reid to Amelia Telford, and Jess Hitchcock to Tarneen Onus Browne, and Dr Anita Heiss, Tanya Hosch, Narelda Jacobs, and many, many more — the main message, if you are still undecided is: if in doubt, find out — and be sure to visit voice.gov.au/ before you head to the polls.

And remember — a Voice is a step to progress, inclusion and equity but it’s most definitely not the only step. Think of your vote as a ‘Yes, and’, as we continue the fight for First Nations justice, self-determination and equity, and join the call for Voice. Treaty. Truth.

Disclaimer: Content published by Verve Superannuation Pty Ltd (ABN 65 628 675 169, AFS Representative No. 001268903), a Corporate Authorised Representative of True Oak Investments Ltd (ABN 81 002 558 956; AFSL 238184).

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