It happened, folks. Australia voted no to enshrining an Indigenous Voice to Parliament in the referendum, and it’s left First Nations people who campaigned for it feeling gutted — and in one expert’s opinion, completely traumatised. However, the way people are responding to the loss is varied, and not everyone agrees on what the best next steps are — so we asked a clinical psychologist.
Following the dreaded results, the Yes Campaign called for a week of mourning and silence as it comes to terms with what this loss means for its supporters, and for a future in Australia where First Nations people must live alongside those who decided they do not deserve a voice.
“Now is not the time to dissect the reasons for this tragic outcome. This will be done in the weeks, years and decades to come,” read a statement endorsed by both the Yes23 and Uluru Dialogue.
“Now is the time for silence, to mourn and deeply consider the consequence of this outcome.”
Aboriginal-owned brands such as Clothing the Gaps and Magpie Goose have closed their doors to take time to process, cope and heal from the historic loss, while other campaigners have logged off social media and headed home to comfort their families and loved ones.
However, while there is indeed an air of mourning, not everyone feels “silence” is the best way to address the failed referendum.
Bundjalung Widubul Wiabul woman, lawyer and human rights advocate Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts called the week of silence “inappropriate” and equated it to “denying our very existence”.
“Whilst Yes23 campaigners are calling on a week of silence, this is inappropriate,” she wrote in a statement on Instagram.
“Change doesn’t come from silence. It comes from making noise, from place, from reminding everyone that we are still here.
“Your silence is a luxury. Our children face the brunt. I will not be silent for a week. Not when it’s at the cost of our children.”
These sentiments were echoed by proud Torres Strait Islander and Tongan storyteller Meleika, who posted an IG tile that said “We shall not be silent” onto her social media, and Indigenous PhD candidate and racial equity consultant Alicia Johnson, who wrote “We must not be silent when the world is watching.”
So, how should one react to the referendum results and heal? Is there even a right way? We spoke to clinical psychologist and Worimi woman Dr Elizabeth Dale for her insight on what the best course of action is for those feeling lost and dejected.
“I think we’re all experiencing a range of emotions right now,” Dr Dale said, noting her own feelings of sadness, disappointment and “a huge sense of rejection”.
“What we experienced is a trauma wound, and it falls sadly on wounds from past government policies that have not yet healed. And so for many of our elders, there’s still so much pain — unprocessed, unhealed pain — from the past and this is just yet another blow on top of that.”
However, she said it was important for non-Indigenous folk to consider that not every Aboriginal person supported the Yes campaign and that means there are going to be different reactions to the referendum result.
“I think we’re all going to react differently. There’s not going to be a right or wrong way to react, and we need to acknowledge that and be mindful of that. What we don’t want to do is invalidate ourselves or invalidate people’s experiences,” she said.
As for the Yes23 campaign’s call for a week of mourning and silence, Dr Dale said that it’s “a nice gesture” — but doesn’t actually address the collective trauma response so many are feeling.
“Now is the time more than ever, to allow Aboriginal peoples space and time to heal in our own way,” she said.
“Saying that we as a nation need to take time out to mourn and to reflect is valid, it’s good and it was a really nice gesture, but it’s not a practical one.
“Aboriginal peoples regard health and wellbeing holistically, and because we’re actually dealing with trauma, we need to be really trauma-informed. If anything, this idea of silence, it’s just a tokenistic gesture.”
However, she implored mob to not let these differences in opinion drive rifts in the community.
“We cannot let this destroy or divide us. This is not a time for blaming or shaming anyone. We need to reach out for help from our family, friends, elders, Aboriginal organisations. We need to really look out for each other, check in with each other and stay connected to the people places, spaces and activities that help us be healthy and well,” she said.
“We can’t lose sight of the gains we’ve already made towards equity inclusion and our self determination. We are resilient people and we need to remember that Aboriginal people are fearless, that we live according to a sophisticated, intelligent culture. And we’re always going to be connected to the creator of our Countries.
“Don’t see this necessarily as a setback. We wouldn’t be in this position if we hadn’t made those gains, if we hadn’t fought as staunchly and as fiercely as we have.
“We’ve really highlighted the inequities in our society, and the racism that is so vile and so prevalent in our society. And if anything, this will hopefully encourage non-Aboriginal people to ally with us more and join us more towards the fight for reconciliation and equity.”
Speaking of non-Indigenous folk, Dr Dale said now is the time for us to stand the fuck up, and I couldn’t agree more.
“Non-Indigenous peoples of society have a role in supporting our health and recovery, and they can do things like not pity us, and not burden us with their feelings,” she said.
“White people need to reflect on their positions of power and privilege. And they need to know that they can use that for our advantage. This is really the time for non-Aboriginal peoples to step up.
“We need them to continue to be our allies and to ensure that they champion our rights and voices in the spaces and the places that they have influence. We don’t want to be seen as victims. We want to be empowered. We want to be allowed to draw on our ways of knowing, being and doing. We need safe spaces and we need trusting relationships restored to us right now.”
Whether you voted “yes” or “progressive no”, it’s undeniable that the referendum has been toxic and hurtful for Indigenous folk of every stance. If you’re non-Indigenous, stand the fuck up against the vitriol and create safe spaces for the Indigenous folk in your life — it’s really the least we can do.
Image: Jenny Evans/Getty Images