what is a 'Letter Stick'?
April 13, 2018 6:13 PM   Subscribe

Prince Charles was met by a delegation of Yolŋu clan leaders (convened by Dennis Wanambi and Waka Mununggurr) and lead by the Member for Nhulunbuy in the NT Parliament, Yingiya Mark Guyula. His Royal Highness was presented with a ‘Letter Stick’.
posted by spaceburglar (17 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
 
Why is it a "big deal" exactly? This article is painfully short.
posted by Brocktoon at 6:49 PM on April 13


I guess it's a big deal to talk back to Britain's pretend-leader-in-waiting?

I'm more curious about the form of the communication. It's a beautiful pattern presented in the article; is that understood to mean that complex detailed text? Or was conventionally written text in English or something included with the pattern?

For that matter, what is a Letter Stick? I can find references online about a "Message Stick", is that the same thing? The Wikipedia article is awful, this blog post is a little better.
posted by Nelson at 6:55 PM on April 13 [6 favorites]


It's a big deal for a delegation from a (small n) nation to assert their own unacknowledged sovereignty to their future official head of state, Nelson, and the letter stick was pretty unambiguous: This here is Yolŋu Land, we are sovereign people and we live by Yolŋu law.

It's not directly to do with the UK (although indirectly, the fact that the twerp from Tetbury is Australia's future head of state is everything to do with the UK, of course).
posted by ambrosen at 7:08 PM on April 13 [8 favorites]


Message stick
posted by hydrophonic at 7:29 PM on April 13 [5 favorites]


Some additional reading for historic context. A key point in the main article, for me, was the reference to a lack of treaty.
posted by spaceburglar at 8:22 PM on April 13 [2 favorites]


Why is it a "big deal" exactly? This article is painfully short.

Consider the use of a message stick to be the equivalent of being formally served with legal papers.
posted by ocschwar at 8:29 PM on April 13 [11 favorites]


That wikipedia article is bizarre. It uses a Seneca (North American) artifact to illustrate this Yolŋu practice, rather like illustrating an article on Kabuki with a picture of the Bolshoi Ballet.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:47 PM on April 13 [13 favorites]


It's very light on details, and really isn't written with an eye to an international audience, but an Indigenous Australian tribe has essentially given Prince Charles a demand for sovereignty, which he accepted 'graciously'.

Indigenous sovereignty and representation has been a bit of a sore point in Australia in recent years; efforts to improve health and literacy outcomes of indigenous Australians has been a dismal failure, and a recent well-supported effort to give indigenous Australians permanent representation in parliament was rejected by the Turnbull government, who falsely claimed it would create a "third house of Parliament" despite this approach being very successful in other countries.
posted by Merus at 11:17 PM on April 13 [5 favorites]


Here is a slightly more detailed article on them. They seem like interesting devices for coping with communications across linguistic groups.

I wish there was a little more context available on the political event described, though. (I mean, I certainly understand why the original article doesn't provide more; it's written for an audience that already understands. I just wish there was something somewhere else.) From the description, to an outsider, it sounds like a sincerely-felt but fairly minor bit of political theater--Charles must receive petitions constantly. But I know little of the context. I assume they are in the right, but what difference would this specific gesture be expected to make? Are there particular consequences?
posted by praemunire at 11:21 PM on April 13


Oh, and what would the historical status of a messenger be, so as to show what status Charles is perceived to have, being asked to carry a message? Because I used the term "petition," and, on a generic level, that's what it looks like, but it's also something more specific. In the West, while heralds theoretically enjoyed protection from violence, they were not terribly important individuals in themselves; their status came from their message and its sender. On the other hand, an ambassador might well be a person of high rank and independent authority. So, historically, would a messenger bearing such a stick be perceived as closer to a herald or to an ambassador? Is this meant as an insult, or at least a firm-putting-in-his-right-place, of Charles, or...?
posted by praemunire at 11:31 PM on April 13


Good.
posted by bibliotropic at 1:09 AM on April 14


Here are a couple of articles about Australia's First Peoples and treaties that will add something.
posted by spaceburglar at 1:40 AM on April 14 [2 favorites]


This will be a pivotal moment in the republic movement and in the future of Australia going forward. 🍔
posted by unliteral at 4:05 AM on April 14 [1 favorite]


See also the Yolgnu's Yirrkala bark petitions, 1963
[T]he first documents bridging Commonwealth law as it then stood, and the Indigenous laws of the land. These petitions from the Yolngu people of Yirrkala were the first traditional documents recognised by the Commonwealth Parliament and are thus the documentary recognition of Indigenous people in Australian law.

Petitions to Parliament must conform to certain rules of procedure and the acceptance of these petitions marks a bridge between two traditions of law. There had been many earlier petitions from Aboriginal people to Australian parliaments, and attempts to present petitions to the Crown. These petitions are the first to use traditional forms and combine bark painting with text typed on paper.

The painted designs proclaim Yolngu law, depicting the traditional relations to land and the typed text is in English and Gumatj languages.
posted by Thella at 4:38 AM on April 14 [4 favorites]


I guess it's a big deal to talk back to Britain's pretend-leader-in-waiting?

Probably more important that he's Australia's leader-in-waiting.
posted by pompomtom at 5:18 AM on April 14 [4 favorites]


I was going to make some remark about how it must have been nice for Charles to be taken seriously by someone for once, but on maturer reflection there is actually a non-zero chance that he might be both able and willing to exert some influence on their behalf.
posted by Segundus at 7:26 AM on April 14


Yeah, Charles is in line to be the head of state of Australia, so is being contacted in that context--and moreover, is being contacted in the context of being the future head of the *Commonwealth*, which is the historic successor to the British Empire. This is significant because The Yolŋu are asserting their position as a nation, and not an entity upon which Australia should assume the right to govern.

Incidentally, Commonwealth countries don't like it when indigenous people do this--it upend the settlerist order of things. This is also why First Nations in Canada often wish to deal with the Governor-General or monarch, with whom their nations have treaties or unresolved issues stemming from unceded or illegitimately lost rights, and not the mere civil servants of the colonial government which antedates these arrangements.
posted by mobunited at 8:00 AM on April 14 [15 favorites]


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