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Building Trust and Relationships with First Nation Leaders


Discover the work of the trustbuilding team in Australia, committed to building relationships with First Nation leaders and communities. Learn about their efforts to educate Australians on the importance of the Voice to Parliament Referendum.

by Sarah Naarden and Manon Michelle Monhemius

The trustbuilding team in Australia continues its strong commitment to building relationships with First Nation leaders and other communities. One key focus they have been working on last year was educating Australians on the importance of the Voice to Parliament Referendum, proposed in the Uluru Statement of the Heart. This constitutional change aimed to give Indigenous Australians a say in the laws and policies that affect them. 

To further the trustbuilding team’s mission, learning partnerships were formed to help consolidate relationships with First Nation leaders. The team worked with Uncle Shane Charles, a cultural advisor and ceremony, who significantly raised his public leadership profile during the past 2 ½ years of the trustbuilding Program. They also engaged with many leaders, including Uncle Glen Loughrey, who co-designed the Turruk program around a deeper understanding of Voice, Treaty, Truth, Healing, and Justice.  

'Leading up to the referendum, I witnessed for the first time the excitement, commitment, and understanding of many people from all walks of life within IofC, the Trustbuilding Program, and the community. This was even more evident on the world stage during the Caux Forum. It gave me love for this journey and a profound feeling of hope. The momentum worldwide and in my country started to paint a beautiful picture of trust, understanding, respect, and support, driving towards a better future. I was in awe of the response. It was beautiful to watch the penny drop in the TBP programming and the new narratives of sharing through building trust, truth, and empowerment. This was a journey I will treasure forever in my days', Uncle Shane says. 

As part of their work to build relationships with First Nation leaders and other communities, the trustbuilding team have organised and participated in various events and programs, such as corporate lunch and learn sessions, cultural programs, and environmental art festivals with local councils. The team has also participated in Yes Vote campaigns and engaged with multicultural communities through various truth-telling yarns, healing history walks, and exhibitions. 

Unfortunately, while in October 2022, polls showed that 64% of Australians were in favour of the referendum, support had dropped significantly to just 40% of Australians who voted yes by October 2023, primarily due to divisive and confusing political misinformation and doubt that spread through communities. The Yes campaign messaging, in support of the Voice to Parliament Referendum, often failed to reach outer suburbs and multicultural and regional communities, resulting in dwindling support. 

Uncle Shane shares, 'I am profoundly devastated by the results of the referendum. The lies and fearmongering of the No campaign have divided our nation and left me with a sinking, hollow feeling. I feel like giving up everything I have worked so hard for. The lack of accountability by governments is also a cause for concern. It is difficult to put into words how I feel, and tears run down my face as I try to express it. I knew that a No vote would lead to a decline in support, which has already begun. As a result, I have resigned from my position as Co-Chair of Reconciliation Victoria. My faith is weak, and I cannot see a bright future for my people. It is disheartening that I will not be able to make the necessary changes for my family and communities. Despite this, I know that resilience will eventually take over. Even though I am currently in Armagh, I feel deserted in many ways. I often wonder if I have done something wrong. It is a feeling that I cannot shake. As a First Nations person, I understand the pain and trauma of this journey. I do not want to be in my country right now. I feel the sickness of Mother Earth and my people. However, I know that Mother Earth stands beside me and is reclaiming her land. Maybe, in time, my grandchildren and great-grandchildren will see change, and the No vote will become a resounding Yes. I am grateful for the support of IOFC International during my time in CAUX and look forward to meeting all of you again soon.' 

Despite the (personal) impact of the No vote, the trustbuilding team remains committed to their work with First Nation leaders and communities. They aim to educate and mobilise support for the First Peoples's cultural safety and awareness. Moving forward, it’s essential to continue the conversation and educate people about why the referendum failed and what we can do in the future to rebuild trust. Through education, communication, and collaboration, the team seeks to help build a more inclusive society that respects and values First Nation peoples’ contributions and perspectives.