Friday, January 25, 2013

A day for survival, idle no more...

We trust that you are all enjoying the beginning of your long weekend.

Although to many Australia Day is simply a day of celebration, barbequed meats, beer and cricket, to many more, it is a day of contention, confusion and contemplation.

This is the first year that my son has taken any notice of this particular holiday. When he asked what we were doing for Australia Day, a silence fell upon our usually noisy car and the slow formulation of a carefully contemplated answer stirred through my mind.
 
I began with a discussion of what Australia Day celebrates, my son quickly caught on to the idea that it may not be particularly nice for a nation to celebrate the date that marked the beginning of the demise of the inhabitants and caretakers of the land on which we all now live. At its most basic level, Australia Day is one group of people celebrating what was a really shitty day for another group of people.

So then came the explanation about why, as Aboriginal people, we will be going to Yabun in Victoria Park to celebrate the survival of our people since invasion, and the continuing strength of Aboriginal people in a society where we are treated like second-class citizens. 

 
Ending on a high, I stopped the conversation there and the back seat returned to its usual noisy level, but in my head, the conversation continued…

I thought about the Idle No More campaign, a movement originating in Canada but now moving around the globe and spreading the message that Indigenous peoples should no longer sit in silence while their sovereignty is denied and the land that they have cared for over thousands of years is destroyed to fill the pockets of those who already have more than their fair share… Thinking about this and about what this day represents does not make me sad, or angry... To me, this is not a day of mourning but a day of celebration. Celebration of the fact that despite the constant battles and opposition that Indigenous peoples all over the world have faced constantly throughout colonial history, we can band together globally and celebrate our future despite the challenges of the past.

On this day last year, resident blogger Ned told the story of a visit he made to an Aboriginal community where the tenants felt ignored and neglected. Where despite having generations of connection with the land they were living on, and despite allegedly having a say and some stake in that land (it being land council property), the community were living in conditions that most would consider unacceptable.

So, a year down the track and where are they now? Well, I can tell you that the tenants are still living in the same conditions but over the past year, the residents have faced eviction in the tribunal and won. The tenants are now armed with a copy of the Tenants’ Rights Manual and are confidently representing themselves in the tribunal when asserting their rights as tenants.

The stories of Aboriginal tenants in NSW are stories of survival and solidarity and on a day like January 26th, which is an anniversary of dispossession, I like to think of those who are still, against all the odds, fighting to stay in their home.

Always was, always will be, Aboriginal land.

Gemma,
Aboriginal Legal Officer @ the TU 

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