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6 min read

‘Change is coming’: Giving together in support of First Nations leaders working towards Voice

Profile of Dom O'Donnell
Written by Dom O'DonnellPosted on 10/5/2023

More than 400 funders and friends of our giving community came together on April 27 to hear from and learn how to support First Nations leaders mobilising around the Referendum.

Hosted by Australian Communities Foundation at The Edge in Melbourne’s Fed Square, the Voices for Impact event saw First Nations leaders from across the country share the details of the work they are undertaking this year for Voice.

Wurundjeri man Daniel Ross welcomed guests with a smoking ceremony on the northern bank of the Birrarung. View photo gallery here.

Historian, activist and Bidjara and Birri Gubba Juru woman Dr Jackie Huggins AM FAHA emceed the evening, introducing First Nations leaders from the Uluru Dialogue, Passing the Message Stick and the Yes 23 campaign.

Australian Communities Foundation and the Impact Fund community are supporting all three groups through the Voices for Impact program. On the night, the Foundation announced a commitment to raise at least $1 million for partners working towards Voice, with over half that target raised in less than a week.

My deep interest is to see a Voice that will be permanent… Change is coming

With a career in Aboriginal affairs spanning four decades, Jackie began the evening by reflecting on the long history of First Nations-led efforts to have their voices heard, and the importance of a constitutionally enshrined Voice.

“I have been involved in many of the machinations of Aboriginal affairs in this country. I was previously Co-Chair of the National Congress Australia’s First Peoples, which was elected by our people but unfortunately was starved of funding and, at the stroke of a pen, we were gone.

“I’ve watched people come and go, and I’ve certainly watched governments come and go. My deep interest is to see a Voice that will be permanent.

“Change is coming, people. Change is coming.”

Watch: Event highlights

Watch the highlights reel above or watch the full recording here

Educating community on Voice, Treaty, Truth

Marcus Stewart presents on the work of the Uluru Dialogue, alongside Uluru Youth Dialogue Co-Chairs Bridget Cama and Allira Davis.

Representatives from the Uluru Dialogue kicked off the evening’s presentations by sharing the details of their work in educating community on the Uluru Statement from the Heart and its three pathways to justice: Voice, Treaty and Truth.

As Co-Chairs of the Uluru Youth Dialogue, Cobble Cobble woman Allira Davis and Wiradjuri woman Bridget Cama have spent the last four years informing and educating people across the country on the Uluru Statement and its reforms.

“We want Australians to get into that ballot box and make an informed and conscious decision,” Allira said.

We need First Nations voices to carry this – it’s critical to its success

“We need to ensure that not only our own Mob are informed about this but that their voices are heard throughout this process,” Bridget added.

Marcus Stewart, First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria Co-Chair and proud Nira illim bulluk man, echoed the call to elevate First Nations voices while affirming the role of allies.

“We need First Nations voices to carry this – it’s critical to its success. That’s not to say we don’t need our allies – we need them more than ever. Everyone gets a vote in this.”

Shifting the narrative and building support

Larissa Baldwin-Roberts, GetUp CEO and proud Widjabul Wia-bul woman, joined the event to present the research work she is co-leading with Dr Jackie Huggins through Passing the Message Stick.

It’s about changing the narrative… to say that our people are deadly, they are proud, they are resilient, and they can do anything just given a voice

Supported by Australian Progress and GetUp, Passing the Message Stick is a multi-year research project shifting public narrative in support of First Nations justice and self-determination.

“It’s about changing the narrative, the conversation, the way in which our deficit is not always there,” explained Jackie, “leading to a strengths-based approach to say that our people are deadly, they are proud, they are resilient, and they can do anything just given a voice and the chance to succeed.”

Larissa Baldwin shared findings from strengths-based messaging research project, Passing the Message Stick.

Reflecting on the kinds of messages needed to build support for Voice, Larissa said it was important to understand that “in terms of the way people are going to vote, it is not a political preference.”

“This vote is about constitutional recognition, but people will vote based on what they think of First Nations people and that is not a yes or no political preference… We need to lift the message up where we have room to persuade people.”

Larissa concluded the presentation with an example of a strengths-based message for supporters to take away and share with their communities.

“People are better off when they are free to set their own course, yet the government keeps locking us out of decisions and forcing their policies on us, insisting that they know what’s best for Aboriginal people.

“But we know what our communities need. Forty years ago, when government health services were failing us badly, we took the driver’s seat and established Australia’s first community health services. Today, our services are the best in the country, and the government models their health, legal aid and childcare systems on ours. Our people are strong and resilient. When are we free to set our own course, the whole country benefits.”

Coordinating a national campaign for Yes

Rounding out the evening’s presentations, filmmaker and Arrernte/Kalkadoon woman Rachel Perkins shared the details of a new national campaign led by Australians for Indigenous Constitutional Recognition (AICR).

Noting the different ways supporters come to the cause, Rachel began with a reflection on her “personal commitment” to Voice, and shared the stories of her great-grandmother Nellie Errerreke and grandmother Hetty Perkins – the challenges they faced and their resilience.

“I think about the experience my grandmother had, and the lack of recognition both she and her mother experienced in their lifetimes. That’s one of the reasons I’m here.”

As AICR Co-Chair, Rachel spoke of the organisation’s role in bringing together First Nations communities and allies through the Yes 23 campaign.

Rachel Perkins presented on the work of the Yes 23 campaign, and called for philanthropy to give “at a scale we have not seen in our country before.”

“We are here to bring together a network of Indigenous Australians and our allies to change this nation to make it a more mature country. We want to bring dignity to people around the country, not only Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but our fellow Australians.

“This recognition that is called for in the Uluru Statement from the Heart is not only recognition of 65,000 years of our occupation or more of this country, but it is a practical solution. It gives us the opportunity to be heard.

“And for me, it’s about hearing the voices back home in Alice Springs, the Arrernte women who are part of my community, and I ask that you join us in this very important moment.”

It is a call to action, also for philanthropy, to lead and to give at a scale that we have not seen in our country before

Inviting the audience to join in the campaign, Rachel made an inspiring call for collaboration.

“I want to talk to you about what it’s going to take to win. Of course, it’s going to take not one person and not one organisation. It is important to note the collaboration and collective strategy that is required. It is a call to action, also for philanthropy, to lead and to give at a scale that we have not seen in our country before.”

The opportunity for philanthropy

Following a live Q&A, representatives from the Australian philanthropic sector closed out the evening with a response to First Nations leaders on behalf of the sector.

“One of the most wonderful things that’s happened over the past couple of months is to see, to listen, to hear from an incredible number of inspiring First Nations leaders,” said Jack Heath, Philanthropy Australia CEO. “I want to say thank you for what you’re doing.”

“The next months are going to be really difficult. Our hearts are going to be with you all the way. Of course, our hearts are not enough and this campaign’s going to require significant resources. This is the moment for philanthropy to do things on a scale that I don’t think we’ll see again in our lifetime.”

Maree Sidey, Australian Communities Foundation CEO, announced the Foundation’s commitment to raise at least $1 million through the Voices for Impact program, inviting funders to seize the opportunity to give together and spread the word.

“If you have chosen to be a part of this evening, it’s because you are here with an open heart and want to know how you can help. I hope that the courage, generosity and candidness of the speakers has inspired you. Because there are very real, very important things that we can all do.

“Tell people about what you’ve heard, have conversations with your friends, your neighbours, your family… Every conversation counts. Get involved. Volunteer your time, your networks, your resources. Help spread the word or raise money. Hold an event – a kitchen table conversation or a dinner with friends.

“And because we’re a community of givers, the most important ask tonight is to ask you to join us by giving.”

Get involved

View the full event photo gallery here.