'Now is the time.' 4 First Nations women on how the Voice will change their lives.

It's time for Australians to vote on whether to change the constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing a body called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice

Nationwide conversations are underway on the topic, and Mamamia recently spoke with an Indigenous Elder on her perspective.

Talking to the people whose lives the Voice would directly impact, we also asked four Indigenous women who are pillars in their fields to share their thoughts on how a Yes vote would change their lives.

Watch: Resilience in the Kimberley. Post continues below.

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Karen Iles. 

Karen Iles is the Principal Solicitor of Violet Co Legal & Consulting, a woman-led, Indigenous-led, social enterprise. She is a lawyer, consultant, board director, sexual assault survivor and Dharug Aboriginal woman.

"Respect and recognition are so important to people - all people. Can you imagine how horrible it is to be silenced, made invisible and written out of history? That's how our current constitution makes us feel. Drafted in 1901 our constitution deliberately omits First Nations people - it makes us, and our ancestors, invisible in this nation. It is now time to change," Karen tells Mamamia.


"We have the opportunity to recognise, and show respect, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people - our First people. Our constitution can only be strengthened by this show of respect for the oldest continuing living culture on the planet."

Image: Supplied.

"As a nation, how do we want to step up? What do we want to be known for? Will we turn away from what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are asking for - Voice Treaty Truth in the Uluru Statement from the Heart? A 'no' vote, or staying silent, means that we continue the status quo. A status quo where 'race relations' are underpinned by disrespect, silencing and decisions being made for not with and by First Nations people. 


"Now is the time to shake up the status quo and vote YES! YES to a voice in parliament. YES to recognition in our constitution."

Tarneen Onus.

Tarneen Onus Williams is a proud Gunditjmara, Bindal, Yorta Yorta person and Torres Strait Islander from Mer and Erub islands. Tarneen is a community organiser for Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance working on Invasion Day, Black Deaths in Custody and Stop the forced closures of Aboriginal Communities in WA. They are also a filmmaker and writer.

"If I've learnt anything by community organising for nearly a decade, it has been don't turn your back on Mob that you agree with 70 per cent of the time - no bridge is worth burning, particularly in an environment that is so divisive as this referendum. All of us have different reasons why we will be writing yes or no or abstaining but I had a moment last week recovering from surgery where I said to myself, I'm all in or not in at all kinda person," they write. 

"From now I will be all in on this referendum trying to get it over the line. I know that the government will have a mandate from the Australian public to make strong policy changes - is it enough power? No. Though if my future children asked me what I did for this referendum, I would say it was complicated and I wrote yes."


"If it gets over the line, I think having First Nations people in control of policies would actually make substantial change for our Mob for future policies. It made me think of the Marriage Equality postal survey again - I keep comparing because I'm Black, I'm Queer and it makes sense for my brain. The 2017 marriage equality plebiscite has been life-changing for the LGBTIA+ community," Tarneen says.

"I've read, listened to and watched so many Blackfullas around the country about how they are feeling about the referendum and to be brutally honest, Mob are scared to come out as writing yes because they are worried about racists or our own Mob turning their backs on them. 


"Every Blackfulla deserves to have an opinion on this referendum and if people really know you and love you, they won't let this referendum get in the way of a relationship."

Jade Ritchie.

Jade Ritchie is from the Bunda Clan of the Gooreng Gooreng Nation. She has 20 years of experience working in Human Services and Aboriginal Affairs across Queensland and the Northern Territory including remote communities in Arnhem Land and Central Australia. 

"I am raising two Aboriginal teenagers in the Northern Territory, which is both beautiful and terrifying. My son recently wrote an essay for school, on his love for the Northern Territory. The same child who went to bed in tears after hearing about the murder of Cassius Turvey. The statistics tell him that currently it's more likely for him and his sister to go to prison than to go to university," Jade tells Mamamia

"I've spent my whole life trying to outrun the statistics, a Gooreng Gooreng woman who grew up in Bundaberg. I was brought up in Aboriginal housing, moving to wherever they told us. I left school wanting to own my home, one that no one could take from me. I came up against systemic racism, unconscious bias and self-doubt constantly. 

"When I did succeed, I was subject to false accusations of free degrees, interest-free home loans, and being told I was now an 'elite Black'. Somehow ending a trauma cycle invalidated my experience and identity."

Image: Supplied.


"Despite this, I have had a long career in the public service in youth justice and Aboriginal affairs. I've had wins over the years, influenced change, made a difference, but these were quickly lost to changes of government and the good old political football. I know things will work when decisions are made based on good advice. I know that a Voice will lead to better outcomes for those I work with; our communities and my own children. 

"I left the public service so that I could use my voice for this campaign. I am teaching my children how to change these harmful systems, not just to simply navigate them. I am teaching my children to be proud of their identities, to walk in two worlds and bring those worlds closer together. What Australia will teach my children on October 14 is that their culture is a gift, they are included and they are heard. That's what any mother would want."


Aunty Munya Andrews.

Aunty Munya Andrews is an Aboriginal Elder, author and barrister. She is also the co-director of Evolve Communities, a trusted authority for Indigenous Cultural Awareness and Ally Training.

"I have dedicated my career, as a cultural educator and author, to bringing Indigenous and non-Indigenous people closer together. I feel confident the Voice to Parliament will support my vision of a more united Australia.

"The Voice will improve my life and the lives of all First Nations people by placing us at the heart of decisions affecting our communities. Australian governments have spent years trying to close the gaps in education, housing, business, health, employment and many other important areas with limited success. Where they have often gone wrong has been a lack of consultation with Indigenous people and communities," Aunty Munya tells Mamamia

"By giving us a Voice, we can start to take ownership of these issues, and make suggestions for improvements based on our lived experience."

Aunty Munya. Image: Supplied. 


"The flow-on effect of this will impact our children and families with better outcomes for everybody. Not just Indigenous Australians, but all Australians will benefit immeasurably from a thriving Indigenous culture, one that all Australians are invited to participate in - whether they have just arrived or can trace their family history back to the Dreaming.

"This is a historical moment for Australians to show the world we are ready to move forward and work towards a stronger future, together."

Feature Image: Supplied.

This article was originally published in September 2023, and has since been updated.

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