In 1988 a legendary Aboriginal leader claimed possession of England. What were his plans for Colonization?
“We will teach you how to have a spiritual relationship with the Earth and show you how to get bush tucker”
– Burnum Burnum
When England ‘discovered’ the land now known as Australia in the late 1700s, they planted a flag and declared it their own by claiming it was uninhabited. This was despite the fact that the contintent had been lived in – and cared for – by hundreds of sovereign Aboriginal Nations for thousands and thousands of years.
The British settlers went on to violently remove families, communities, tribes and nations from their ancestral land in the name of colonization, first cutting down ancient forests and introducing non-native animals and pests, and later by poisoning waterways and building cities where beautiful ecosystems once stood.
The colonizers took away the Aborigines’ right to practice their own culture and forced upon them one that had little respect for the environment, and little concept of equal rights for all people. They stole their hunting and gathering grounds and gave them white flour and Coca Cola. They took away their access to native medicines and gave them alcohol and drugs.
It was a tragedy of immense proportions. Our most ancient culture on Earth decimated. Wisdom and knowledge of the ages gone forever. Generations of children still living in trauma and confusion. But what if it had been the other way around? If Indigenous Australians had colonized England, what would they have done differently?
Taking Possession of England on Behalf of Indigenous Australians
Burnum Burnum was an Indigenous Australian of the Woiworung and Yorta Yorta tribes on the south coast of New South Wales. A member of the Stolen Generation, he was taken from his family as a boy and placed into institutions designed to squeeze the ‘blackness’ out of half caste children.
Despite the tragedy of forced removal and living through intense discrimination against his people and culture, he went on to become a legendary Indigenous leader and activist who is best known for planting an Aboriginal flag on English soil and ceremonially taking possession of England on behalf of his people.
Gray beard flowing, brown eyes flashing, he made a speech full of barbed allusions to the treatment of the Aborigines by the English settlers of Australia. No harm, he promised, would come to England’s ‘native people’ from his invasion. – New York Times Obituary, 1997
His full declaration (below) is a stark contrast to the colonial policies of the early British settlers and the legalized discrimination of many Australian governments that followed. But more importantly, it highlights the very un-colonial Aboriginal nature of inclusiveness and understanding, love for all people, and respect for all of Creation.
THE BURNUM BURNUM DECLARATION
ENGLAND, 26th JANUARY, 1988
“I Burnum Burnum, being a nobleman of ancient Australia do hereby take possession of England on behalf of the Aboriginal People.
In claiming this colonial outpost, we wish no harm to you natives, but assure you that we are here to bring you good manners, refinement and an opportunity to make a Koopartoo – “a fresh start.”
Henceforth, an Aboriginal face shall appear on your coins and stamps to signify our sovereignty over this domain.
For the more advanced, we bring the complex language of the Pitjantjajara; we will teach you how to have a spiritual relationship with the Earth and show you how to get bush tucker.
We do not intend to souvenir, pickle and preserve the heads of 2,000 of your people, nor to publicly display the skeletal remains of your Royal Highness, as was done to our Queen Truganinni for 80 years. Neither do we intend to poison your waterholes, lace your flour with strychnine or introduce you to highly toxic drugs.
Based on our 50,000 year heritage, we acknowledge the need to preserve the Caucasian race as of interest to antiquity, although we may be inclined to conduct experiments by measuring the size of your skulls for levels of intelligence. We pledge not to sterilize your women, not to separate your children from their families.
We give an absolute undertaking that you shall not be placed into the mentality of government handouts for the next five generations but you will enjoy the full benefits of Aboriginal equality.
At the end of two hundred years, we will make a Treaty to validate occupation by peaceful means and not by conquest.
Finally, we solemnly promise not to make a quarry of England and export your valuable minerals back to the old country Australia, and we vow never to destroy three-quarters of your trees, but to encourage Earth Repair Action to unite people, communities, religions and nations in a common, productive, peaceful purpose.
Signed – Burnum Burnum”