This year NAIDOC Week was marked from Sunday 7 to Sunday 14 July with the theme ‘ Voice Treaty Truth’, stemming from the ‘Uluru Statement of the Heart’ to inspire and strengthen the voice of Indigenous people to be heard by all.
The NAIDOC Week occurs every July and aims to create a moment of stillness to honour the history, culture and accomplishments of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. The origin of NAIDOC began in the 1920s when Indigenous leaders raised the awareness of the plight and status of Indigenous people.
According to archaeological research, Australia’s First Nations People are the oldest continuing culture, dating back over 65,000 years. Therefore, Indigenous voices were the very first words uttered on this continent. Last week’s National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) commemoration makes me wonder, how often do we as a nation, pause to reflect on these remarkable people.
CEO of Dandenong and District Aboriginal Co-operative Limited, Hassan Gardiner (also known as Andrew) a descendant from the Wurundjeri balluk clan of the Woiwurrung people, explained that the week was a reminder to the wider community “that we (Indigenous Australians), are still here and we need to be recognised.”
An impassioned Hassan spoke about the gravity of the week, that NAIDOC represents the ability for Indigenous people to rise above, having not succumbed to genocide and instead applaud the achievements made.
“It means inclusiveness, respect, that our elders still hold a lot of our history and stories and that our community is growing,” enthused Hassan.
The week was especially heartfelt, as he helped organise a Children’s Day for Indigenous children, many of whom came from foster care.
Shahnaz Rind, a young woman from the Yamatji tribe from Western Australia, also expressed why honouring NAIDOC was so significant, particularly for national healing.
“The pains we have suffered has made our community strong and resilient…Resilience has been there for years. But it is also a bad thing, resilience…plays with trauma (and) mental health. There is intergenerational trauma (which stems) from the stolen generation, massacres, our families being raped, and abused (and it still causes) young people to commit suicide,” explained Shahnaz.
Indeed, intergeneration trauma has been widely reported for perpetuating social-economic disadvantage. This is compounded by the lack of equal opportunity and unremitting discrimination.
More recently, in 2017 as part of an initiative fashioned by the then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, the ‘Uluru Statement from the Heart’ was crafted directly addressed to the Australian public. The document outlines a path forward for healing divisions of the past and acknowledging Indigenous Australians in the nation’s constitution.
Fundamental to this struggle has been the longstanding desire for substantive constitutional recognition, over symbolism. Australia is the only Commonwealth country not to have a treaty with its Indigenous people. It was reported that as far back as 1832, Governor Arthur called that lack of treaty a “fatal error”.
Constitutional recognition provides the lens which informs the High Court’s decision-making capabilities. Currently, there is no acknowledgement to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the nation’s founding document.
“Truth-telling (is important as it reveals) that…our people have been dispossessed, displaced, disrespected and discriminated against…the stolen generation, assimilation and…(the fact that many) kids (continue to) experience out-of-home care, (these issues) need to be healed,” said Hassan.
“If we can’t resolve things from the past, we can’t look to a brighter future. These issues act as an anchor,” expressed Hassan.
Legal protection will empower Indigenous Australians to have their say on matters which affect themselves and all Australians and ensure they have a rightful seat on the table. At the National Press Club on the 11th of July, Indigenous Affairs Minister Ken Wyatt, the first Indigenous person to hold the portfolio, pledged to build consensus and hold a referendum for constitutional recognition.
In this day and age, constitutional change is required to end discrimination that divides multicultural Australia and continues to suppress our Indigenous Australians. This will ensure that modern Australia is properly reflected on the world stage.
“We want the rest of the community to support and respect us. To attend (our events) and participate, and to vote for a resounding YES when a referendum happens,” encouraged Hassan.
Voices are vital and so are our ears because meaningful dialogue involves speaking and active listening. It certainly is time for Australians to listen to our First Nation’s People. They have so much to teach all of us. The Uluru statement finishes with a touching plea for action from the Australian public.
“In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard,” concluded the Uluru statement.
For more information about the Uluru Statement of the Heart, please see: https://www.1voiceuluru.org/the-statement