Our struggle for Indigenous rights and equality is bound up inextricably with the rights of all Australians. Our freedom is your freedom. Reconciliation is not an isolated event but part of the fabric of this nation. Will you take our hand? Will you share our dream? (E.R. Scott)
There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children. (Nelson Mandela)
The song is gone; the dance a secret with the dancers in the earth, the ritual useless and a tribal story lost in an alien tale. (Judith Wright)
Evelyn Ruth Scott saw racism from an aboriginal point of view but no different from racism anywhere else and as a poorly understood reality because it is a tool to degrade. It is an instrument of socio-economic oppression, serving both corrupted and legitimate power. Even in a democracy, its true nature can be obscured. Her friend Gracelyn Smallwood an expert in public health has dealt with disease, but says she has never been able to come to terms with the ugly disease of racism. Racism and global warming have a lot in common. Both are denied. Scott believed that inclusion and self-determination is the only path to protect indigenous peoples and their rights.
Racial and cultural superiority theories have led and still lead to suppression everywhere, much more or much less. More than 370 million indigenous people spread across 70 countries practice uniquely different traditions from those of the dominant group. The later arrivals became dominant by suppression and conquest. Colonialism is partially built on this.
Indigenous peoples suffer from poverty, in health and from human rights abuses. International bodies have labelled it a continuing injustice. They link repatriation and reconciliation together, which for the first to be successful there is a paramount need for a vision of reconciliation. In South Africa 'reconciliation is often linked with forgiveness; in the Balkans reconciliation after ethnic cleansing is not simply turning to a new page. In Australia, poet and social activist Judith Wright campaigned for Aboriginal land rights and marched in the name of reconciliation. Even as we love our earth she said the experiences of cruelty, pain and death are inseparable from the lives of birds and man (of mice and men). She turns a sorrowful but clear-sighted gaze on the terrible damage we have done and continue to do to our world.
In Australia, languages and cultures were suppressed, spiritual practices outlawed and the identity of Aboriginal peoples undermined. In Queensland, Scott lived to see Parliament express regret for hurts suffered by children who because of skins lighter than their mothers were forcefully removed from their families. In Australia, an indigenous child dies 20 years earlier than his non-native compatriot. Dr Scott slipped away seeing a part of her vision come true but at a time of great planetary stress; she heard stronger raised Indigenous voices. But she knew that while it was a necessary precondition it was insufficient. Given her passion for improved land and sea management and as a passionate campaigner for the protection of the Great Barrier Reef off her native coast she will in her second spirit life be a big supporter of reducing carbon emissions to restrict global warming.
Dr Scott died in the far north of Queensland at the age of 82. The world takes note that Australia in providing her with a state funeral the Australian Government went on notice and on a worthy note to honour a great woman Aboriginal leader at a time of spreading racism throughout the world.
Evelyn Ruth Scott possessed a striking presence, standing tall, proud in her signature black hat accentuated by her white hair. She was the grand-daughter of a slave labourer brought in chains to Queensland to work in sugar fields. Fortunately, she became an Indigenous educator and a campaigner for social justice in Australia's Aboriginal and Islander communities. Her motto came from her father's words, which she took to heart: If you don't think something is right, then challenge it. She became recognised as a trailblazer who changed Australia.
In the 1960s she worked in the Townsville Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advancement League and was actively involved in campaigning for the Constitutional Referendum of 1967. She was a key figure in the 'yes' campaign when 90 per cent of Australian voters chose 'Yes' to count Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the census. It gave the Australian Government the power to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It was a decade long struggle; it was a question of equal rights. It changed how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were referred to in the constitution.
In 1971, she joined the Federal Council for the Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. As its vice-president she led its transformation into an Indigenous-controlled organization and the first national women's organization. The year 1973 was proclaimed a new era for Indigenous political activism and is seen as having given a big push for self-determination for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
Evelyn became Chair of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation at a challenging time when federal government spending on reconciliation was cut. A high point for Indigenous advancement came with the Mabo High Court judgement in 1992, which overturned the concept of 'terra nullius', a land with no people. In the late 1990s she chaired the National Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation while in the Australia Day Honours list, 2003, Scott became an Officer in the Order of Australia.
Throughout her career, Dr Scott had audiences with Nelson Mandela, former South African president, Queen Elizabeth II and several Australian prime ministers. She was remembered recently during a Youth Forum in the Balkans, a region which experienced the ordeal of ethnic cleansing.
More work was to follow, as calls for an apology to the Stolen Generations in the Bringing Them Home Report, 1997 was met with stiff resistance by the government.
Besides the Order of Australia, she received the Queen's Jubilee Medal, the Queensland Greats Award for her contribution to history and development of the state of Queensland and was awarded honorary doctorates from James Cook University and the Australian Catholic University.
Evelyn Ruth Scott’s life emphasized the importance of freedom. It was one full of passion and commitment to humanity. Her heart went out to the Stolen Generations and what she saw as the inhumanity afforded to Aboriginal people (1909-1969) and to all forgotten Australians, indigenous children and non indigenous, child migrants and those experiencing institutional care in and outside of Australia as a result of poverty and family break down.
In this the year of Scott’s death, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz [Philippines] of the UN visited Australia and heard from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders about their feelings of powerlessness, loss of culture and lack of control over their lives. She has referred to the astounding rates of imprisonment for indigenous peoples and the escalating suicide rates among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, which is double that of non-Indigenous Australians. In parallel, José Graziano da Silva of FAO referred to indigenous peoples as fundamental allies in the fight against hunger, food insecurity and poverty, a result of their culture and the wealth of available ancestral knowledge and good practices, constrained by the lack of recognition of their rights in the management of natural resources.
Evelyn Ruth wanted a new narrative to tell and she told it well. She wanted to create a new culture in Australia helpful to hers and other worlds. She promoted public health and family. Was it a dream? Other summing ups of Dr. Scott are a 'very respected elder' and the doctor-midwife who helped countless children into this world and went on to fight for their rights and to alleviate the injustices done against them. She was a mother and a grandmother surrounded at her moment of truth by her children and grandchildren, which says it all.
• Evelyn Scott, The Meaning of Reconciliation, Keynote address at the conference Remedies to Racial and Ethnic Economic Inequality, Adelaide, 1998.
• Karin Landgren, Reconciliation: Forgiveness in the Time of Repatriation, World Wide Refugee Information, www.refugees.org.
• From Dispossession to Reconciliation: Research Paper 27 1998-99, John Gardiner-Garden Social Policy Group 29 June 1999.
• International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs Indigenous Peoples - Keepers of our past - Custodians of our future webpage.
• Erica Irene A. Daes, INDIGENOUS PEOPLE - Keepers of our past-Custodians of our future; United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Professor Erica Irene A. Daes, Greece (1925-†2017) was a driving force behind the Declaration and Founding Chairperson & Special Rapporteur, United Nations Working Group on Indigenous Populations and Member, United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. She made discrete fact finding visits to Australia.
• Gracelyn Smallwood, Indigenist Critical Realism monograph Routledge, London, 2015.
• Jeffrey Levett, Political Wall Flowers Butterflies for Global Health?
• Levett Jeffrey, From cradle of European civilization to grave austerity: does Greece face a creeping health disaster? Prehosp Disaster Med. 2013;28(6):1-2.
• Levett Jeffrey, Political Determinants of Disaster: Kosovo. 15th World Congress on Disaster and Emergency Medicine.
• Baher Kamal, Indigenous Peoples: Allies or Enemies? These key allies to fight hunger are often treated as enemies, 2017.