With National Reconciliation Week in full swing, NITV journalist Natalie Ahmat wants to see more Australians heading to their local Reconciliation events—and making friends with their indigenous neighbours.
Chatting to Hope 103.2’s breakfast team Sam and Duncan, she said 6 or 7 Australians in every 10 have never actually engaged with an Aboriginal person, according to research. And many Aussies are still in the dark about our Aboriginal history.
Reconciliation Week is a chance to change all of that.
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“Why Didn’t We Learnt This in School?”
The theme of this year’s Reconciliation Week is “Don’t Keep History a Mystery”, in order to shine a light on history many of us didn’t have a chance to learn in school, says Natalie.
“One of the things I hear the most when I’m speaking to non-indigenous people is, ‘why didn’t we learn this in school? Why didn’t we learn about the Stolen Generations? Why didn’t we learn about the Frontier Wars, the dispossession of Aboriginal people from their lands?” said Natalie.
“I think there’s a real gap… a lot of people want to learn more and want to be able to engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and histories and culture, but just don’t know how to go about it.
“So this week is a chance to reflect and demystify things, and learn more.”
How to Get Involved
Learning about indigenous culture might be as simple as finding out who are the traditional owners of the land where you live. Aboriginal nations maps like the one produced by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies will give you a head start. Attending a local event will help even more.
“A lot of people do acknowledgements and Welcome to Country,” said Natalie. “That’s a simple thing that people are being encouraged to do.
“Activities and events are being hosted by councils around the country. It’s a really fun and gentle way to be involved. There might be a local smoking ceremony or a concert. That’s a wonderful way to open the door and meet people, and start to learn and celebrate together.
“Reconciliation is not just about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, it’s about all Australians coming together.”
Why the Last Week of May?
Late May and early June form a significant for Aboriginal Australians for a number of reasons. It’s the week when the 1967 Referendum took place (May 27), which resulted in Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders being counted in the population, and enabled the government to pass laws that specifically benefitted Aboriginal people.
“There’s been a lot more that has happened in our 200-plus years of shared history, that we still need to come to terms and reconcile with as a nation.”
And it’s also the week of landmark ‘Mabo Decision’ – a decision ruled by the High Court of Australia (on June 3, 1992) that saw the notion of “terra nullius” overturned. It was the first time Australia had officially acknowledged that indigenous people were the owners of Australian land before white settlement.
The annual Reconciliation Week is bookended by the celebration of Sorry Day on May 26, and Mabo Day on June 3.
Haven’t we Said Sorry?
Some Australians take the view that ‘Kevin Rudd said sorry and we should move on’ (referring to Prime Minister Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations), but Natalie stresses that reconciliation is an ongoing process of cultural change.
“That was such a pivotal and important and historic moment (on February 13, 2008) when Kevin Rudd said those words,” she said. “My grandmother was a member of the stolen generations and that was a very emotional day for me when Kevin Rudd stood up and acknowledged the wrongdoings that had been done to so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. That was such an important step. But that was just the first step on this road… to healing.
“And it only addressed the stolen generations. There’s been a lot more that has happened in our 200-plus years of shared history, that we still need to come to terms and reconcile with as a nation.
“You only have to look at things like the high incarceration rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the gaps that still exist in life expectancy and health, to see that still a lot more work needs to be done.”