Understanding NAIDOC Week

By Malcolm Mann (Darumbal), Leonie Taylor (Djaku-nde & Birri Gubba), Melody Muscat (Bidjara) and Melinda Mann (Darumbal)

NAIDOC began in the 1920-30s and its evolution has shaped our national conversations. However, it’s about a coming together around a range of celebratory activities. These activities traditionally span a week or in some communities can span a month or more. NAIDOC Week is an invitation or an opportunity for the wider Australian community to ‘get-to-know’ and begin to understand and or strengthen their understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

This is a golden opportunity for the public to experience the cultural richness interwoven with ancient knowledges and practices and contemporary activities. The public will see the resilience of communities, understand how contributions fit into the Nation’s story and the achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I encourage people to attend and have an open mind and not be afraid about what they will experience, learn from it and make connections. We are all tied to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Country, some longer than others, and if we wish to close any ‘gap’ in our communities than it begins with a humbleness to walk together and see the cultural richness and knowledge that unites us as a Nation rather than continuously focused on the negative that divides us.

2019 NAIDOC Theme – Voice, Treaty, Truth

Australia’s colonial history is 249 years old, but Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have existed here for over 60 000 years. In 2019, the NAIDOC theme of Voice, Treaty, Truth creates a safe space for all Australians to have difficult conversations about the impact those 249 years of occupation has had on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. One way our Voices have been denied has been through the impact of colonisation on Indigenous languages.  Our languages carried song lines, connections to Country, and oral histories that have been passed down through thousands of generations of our families. In the United Nations’ Year of Indigenous Languages, languages are being recovered and revitalised across communities.

There has never been any form of Treaty with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, no acknowledgement of the wisdom and knowledge of our Ancestors who developed this country through farming, fishing, trade, medicines, boundaries and protocols for land access and use, and families and marriage. Unfortunately, ‘Truth’ has been revealed in many Royal Commissions and Inquiries and still the difficult conversations and ability to learn from past mistakes remains a challenge.  As a Nation, we need to be more courageous in walking together to speak our truths. Only then will we change our future.

Uluru Statement

This year’s NAIDOC theme, Voice, Treaty, Truth, are the key elements to the reforms set out in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. Voice reflects our languages that pass down lore, culture and knowledge and the need to be heard; Treaty and Truth reflect our aspirations for effective treaties, which cannot be achieved unless there is respect for a shared and truthful understanding of Australia’s history, so we can move forward together as a Nation.

Voice, Treaty, Truth are grounded in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s struggle in the ongoing face of systemic racism, to hold onto four things – our diverse identities; our traditional lands and water, our languages; our culture. These values are central to our health and wellbeing, our futures. If these values are not central to policies, programs, education or health systems that seek to support us, they will not succeed.

This requires partnerships that enable Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s voices to be foundational in decision making regarding matters that affect our lives and those of our future generations. The extent to which this genuinely occurs will determine the trajectory of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s health and wellbeing, and rightful position in Australian society in the 21st Century.

Working Together for a Shared Future

The subheading, Let’s work together for a shared future, is a call to action requiring politicians, policy and law makers, leaders and administrators to honestly critique what has been done that has led us to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people calling for Voice, Treaty and Truth in 2019. Ultimately, it requires the Nation to truly reckon itself with the reality of the ongoing impact of colonisation on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s Lands, families, languages, societies, identities, and bodies.

The future can be bright and it can be shared, but it requires us to think and do differently. The Nation must be more sophisticated in its thinking and more courageous to resist the tendency to posit Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia’s history and in doing so, revert to an assimilated vision of Australia’s future. A shared future upholds Indigenous sovereignty and trusts the vision, contribution and commitment Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have had for these lands since time immemorial.

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