Wednesday, July 5, 2017

NAIDOC week 2017 - Our languages matter

This article written by the TU's Legal Officer (Aboriginal Support), Jessica Hall. Jessica works closely with the Aboriginal Tenants Advice and Advocacy Services across NSW.

It’s NAIDOC week, and once again the TU is reflecting on and recognising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island culture, talent and resilience, and the contributions that Indigenous Australians make to our country and our society.

This year’s theme is Our Languages Matter. The 2017 theme aims to “celebrate the essential role that Indigenous languages play in both cultural identity, linking people to their land and water, and in the transmission of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, spirituality and rites, through story and song”.


From the earliest days of European contact there was often an assumption that Indigenous Australian languages were of less value than English and this view soon hardened into government policy, reinforced through education and employment practices. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were discouraged from speaking their languages, so that many children had little or no knowledge of their traditional languages.

This year’s NAIDOC week theme comes at a time of important discussion and proposed NSW legislation to review treatment of, and to recognise and protect, Indigenous Australian languages, with NSW to become the first state to pass a law protecting Indigenous languages. The recently released draft Aboriginal Languages Bill 2017 seeks to implement measures to protect and revive NSW Aboriginal languages by a focused and sustained effort, including a Strategic Plan and a new Centre for Aboriginal Languages of NSW.

Aboriginal languages also became available as a HSC subject for the first time in 2016. Prior to this, students were only able to take Aboriginal language courses from kindergarten to year 10. The moves towards education reform will aid Aboriginal young people to become the future custodians and caretakers of their languages. This renewed focus to support and maintain Aboriginal Languages is a step in the right direction.

Dhubany by Millmullian, 2015
Indigenous languages and oral storytelling are integral for linking Aboriginal people to their lands, and maintaining cultural identity through the passing of stories through generations. Historically, colonial relocation was a significant contribution to the disruption of Indigenous language and storytelling. According to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, over 250 Indigenous Australian language groups covered the continent at the time of European settlement in 1788. Today only around 120 of those languages are still spoken.

This historic relocation and the effect it had on Indigenous languages is being echoed today by a continued forced relocation of Aboriginal people - by the use of no grounds notices, which force Aboriginal tenants from their homes without reasonable cause. The Aboriginal Tenants Advice and Advocacy Services across NSW are now consistently quoting no-grounds evictions as one of the major issues facing Aboriginal tenants, both in social housing and private tenancies. There should be legislation in place that allows the Tribunal to refuse such notice by taking into account an Aboriginal tenant’s cultural connection to country. The movement from dispossession and displacement to eviction without grounds draws worrying contrasts.

With reflection on the clear lessons that Indigenous languages must be recognised in Australia, we hope that the government will also move towards bettering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights in all areas, including Aboriginal housing. Here at the TU, we will celebrate NAIDOC week at a number of events, including a stall in association with CLCNSW at WEAVE’s annual NAIDOC Woolloomooloo festival on Saturday 8 July.

Happy NAIDOC week!

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