by Olivia Williams.
NAIDOC Week is an opportunity for all people of Australia to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, culture and achievements.
NAIDOC stands for ‘National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee’. The origins of NAIDOC Week can be found in Aboriginal advocacy groups of the 1920s.
Each year NAIDOC Week is assigned a theme. This year, the theme is: Always Was, Always Will Be. This celebrates the ongoing occupation and care for this continent that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have maintained for over 60,000 years.
NAIDOC Week is also a great time for non-Indigenous peoples to reflect on their own perspectives and knowledge, and make a commitment to learning more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander topics.
As the founder of the Instagram page Blak Business, I have the opportunity to speak with lots of Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous peoples. From yarning with non-Indigenous people, I have found that fear of unintentional ignorance, offence or tokenism holds some people back from engaging with our community.
In my experience, this anxiety can be largely attributed to a lack of understanding and knowledge. Through commitment to learning, you have the potential to expand your worldview, deepen your understanding and strengthen your confidence in your knowledge.
Conversely, if you do not open yourself to learning and remain too focused on the outward appearance of your support, your actions may be misguided and tokenistic. For example, it is not meaningful to create pathways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees or students without also reflecting on your workplace/school culture and creating a culturally safe space. Similarly, destroying sacred sites undermines the purpose of having a Reconciliation Action Plan (as demonstrated by Rio Tinto destroying the Juukan Gorge).
At the start of this week, I provided some recommendations for ways to get involved in NAIDOC Week. It is important to recognise that these suggestions cannot be meaningfully actioned without learning and understanding the purpose, or the ‘why’ behind them.
Here, I have unpacked the ‘why’ of some of these suggestions in an attempt to get you started on a learning journey:
- Learn the name of the Country you are on. In keeping with the theme – Always Was, Always Will Be – learn the name of the Aboriginal Country or Zenadth Kes (Torres Strait) nation you are on. Mainland ‘Australia’ is comprised of over 250 Aboriginal Countries. Learning the name of the Country you are on is important for acknowledging and understanding place and history. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are often misrepresented as some far off idea tucked away in the bush. In reality, 81% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples live in cities and regional areas and all parts of this content are, and always have been, Aboriginal land.
- Fly the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flag. Flying or displaying the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags is a highly visible way of showing recognition and respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as distinct communities that exist alongside the wider Australian nation. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags should be flown/displayed all year around, not only during NAIDOC Week.
- Engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices. It is important when learning about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples that you centre our voices and experiences. That is, whilst there is a breadth of material written about us, it is more powerful to access material by us. This includes books, social media profiles, television programs, news sources and so on.
Some reliable sources which centre Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices include:
- Magabala Books
- ABC Indigenous
- Social media profiles
- Cape and Torres News
- First Nations Telegraph
- Koori Mail
- Common Ground
Ultimately, learning (and unlearning) is a journey. I recognise that this journey can be difficult, unsettling and at times confronting. To help you on your journey, I would provide the following recommendations:
- Listen to learn. Listening is the fundamental tenet of learning. In Aboriginal culture, knowledge is passed on orally and therefore careful listening is important to ensure that we understand what is being shared with us.
- Try remain objective. It is important that you understand how information relates to you, however do not let this overwhelm or consume you by constantly relating all information to yourself.
- Turn to your non-Indigenous friends to debrief. As you learn and are confronted with new information, turn to your non-Indigenous friends first. Debriefing with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples may cause you to unintentionally inflict trauma upon them. If you are going to approach an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander friend, ask for consent first before unloading to them.
About the author:
Olivia is a Wiradjuri woman and founder of the Instagram page, Blak Business. Blak Business brings together information, knowledge and resources to facilitate broader learning and discussion about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander topics.