I acknowledge the Dispossession. I respect the essential continuing living relationship between all First Nations Peoples and the Land, the Water, and the Oceans, and I respect their cultural practices. I respect the traditional relationships of the Ngarigo Nation, on whose Country I am living.
Earlier this month, this year’s biennial National Mediation Conference came and went. A 100% virtual event, we kept our word by ensuring it was still convened on traditional land in Central Australia: the whole conference was broadcast from the Desert Knowledge Precinct which is on traditional land just south of Mparntwe (Alice Springs). NMC2021 Mparntwe was hosted by six Elders from Central Australia, all of whom also helped design the conference: Maureen Abbott (Co-Chair, Conference Design Committee); Harold Furber (Elder-in-Residence, Desert Knowledge Precinct); Dr Pat Miller AO; Marlene Rubuntja; Kumali Riley; and Veronica Dobson. The Conference Design Committee also included Helen Bishop, an Elder and Traditional Custodian from the Top End of the NT. NMC2021 was designed to be an immersive experience, showcasing First Nations’ approaches to conflict and to its management, including peace-making and peace-building. Delegates learnt that it is possible for even an online event to be an engaging and immersive experience.
Presentations from all round Australia and the world were a mix of pre-recorded sessions and live Zoom Meetings, demonstrating that so much interesting work can be packed into online sessions. A particular highlight was the daily Talking Circles, led by the hosting Elders, during which they provided insights to the cultural foundations that underpin the work of First Nations Peace-builders. These were so popular that there have been requests that they be retained in future NMCs as a forum for giving voice to First Nations people.
On the morning of the third day of NMC2021, a Zoom Meeting was convened to discuss the complex Indigenous issues raised within the conference, including the lack of suitable professional recognition and support for the work being done by First Nations practitioners. A key outcome of that meeting was the recognition that these issues are not limited to the NT context, nor are they newly arrived, and any future activities should consider and build on what has already been done.
Although Maureen Abbott attended the meeting, and spoke, Helen Bishop could not. Instead, Helen prepared a written statement that was read to the meeting – and it was agreed that the Statement should be made more widely available. The Statement has been signed by Helen Bishop, Maureen Abbott, Harold Thurber, and Pat Miller. The Board of NMC Ltd is taking responsibility for overseeing appropriate distribution of the Written Statement, and Bianca Keys (Chair, MSB) is tabling the Statement for consideration by the MSB.
Other steps are also being pursued, including the establishment of twin “hubs” for First Nations practitioners in Central Australia and in the Top End; the development of support and training options appropriate to the culture and language of those practitioners; exploration of communications platforms that are suitable for remote communities; and options for establishing an Interest Group on Indigenous Peace-building Practices.
In May this year, NMC Ltd became a public and registered supporter of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and the Board of NMC Ltd is preparing an amendment to its own constitution which, in recognition of its own need for greater diversity, will require that the Board include at least one First Nations member.
Helen Bishop has asked that the Statement be made available to members of the ADR Research Network: