I live on the land of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation. ‘Eora’ means ‘here’ or ‘from this place.’ Twenty-nine clans belong to the Eora Nation (of what is now known as Sydney), each with their distinct culture, languages, songlines and practices. Sovereignty was never ceded. This land always was, is, and forever will be, Aboriginal land.
Yesterday was National Sorry Day and today marks the beginning of Reconciliation Week. The meanings and actions of these national events are different for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and non-Indigenous people. Here are some reflections for those of us who are settlers, and what we can do to better listen and walk in solidarity with First Nations.
Sorry Day began in 1998, to commemorate the Bringing Them Home report (1997), which documented the grief, loss and impact of the Stolen Generations. Government policies forcibly removed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families. The report made 54 recommendations, including funding to record these histories and reparations. These remain largely unfufilled, 23 years later. From the report:
“The histories we trace are complex and pervasive. Most significantly the actions of the past resonate in the present and will continue to do so in the future. The laws, policies and practices which separated Indigenous children from their families have contributed directly to the alienation of Indigenous societies today.
“For individuals, their removal as children and the abuse they experienced at the hands of the authorities or their delegates have permanently scarred their lives. The harm continues in later generations, affecting their children and grandchildren.”Bringing Them Home (1997)
Today, the Stolen Generations continues, as Government continues to removes e Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children at four times the rate as when the Bringing Them Home Report was written. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children make up 40% of all children in out-of-home care in New South Wales.
Additionally, the state is set to cut half the funding to AbSec, the peak body for Aboriginal child protection in NSW.
Reconciliation Week starts on 27 May and ends 3 June on Mabo Day. These dates mark two significant events:
- The 1967 referendum, where Australians voted to amend the Constitution to allow the Commonwealth to make laws for Aboriginal people and include them in the Census; and
- The High Court Mabo decision, the 1992 ruling that recognised Native Title – land rights of the Meriam people of the Mer Islands, which opened up land rights for First Nations across Australia.
For non-Indigenous people, this week and beyond, let’s read, listen and seek to understand the diverse perspectives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who are sharing complex discussions of what this week means to them.
Some see it as a small, and ongoing, step towards truth telling and healing. Others critique that the way non-Indigenous Australians engage with this week-long event – either as passive spectators or with the expectation that we should not feel discomfort.
We must reflect and take action to follow First Nations’ leadership to national change.
Here are some actions that non-Indigenous people can take this week.
1) Write to Rio Tinto and your local representatives to demand action
The mining company has destroyed a 46,000-year-old sacred Aboriginal site to expand iron ore mine. Rio Tinto has a Reconciliation Action Plan and attended regular meetings with traditional custodians of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) Aboriginal Corporation, but still annihilated their cultural heritage. This is one of many examples First Nations people point to when they say non-Indigenous Australians remain uncommitted to true reconciliation, and why we must instead engage in reparations and complete national reform of outdated and oppressive laws.
2) Join the daily virtual events
We are still observing social distance due to Coronavirus COVID-19, but we can still attend online events to mark Reconciliation Week. Apply recommendations by First Nations people to transform your organisation into one that is demonstrably committed to First Nations leadership and rights.
3) Reflect on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stories
Watch and reflect deeply on films and documentaries free on SBS. Uplift First Nations voices, let’s educate ourselves, and follow when First Nations lead change.
4) Learn whose land you’re on
Read about the Eora Nation and learn more about whose land you’re on.