Rachel Reitsma delves into NAIDOC Week, a celebration of the custodians of our land, and a stark reminder of how much work is left to do.



5-12 July is NAIDOC week. A week solely dedicated to celebrating of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders’ history and culture. It is primarily celebrated by indigenous peoples but there is encouragement for non indigenous peoples to participate as well. But is 1 week out of 52 enough?

Should we stand proud and celebrate when the gap remains so sparse? When the large disparity in terms of healthcare, education, and the over representation of indigenous Australians in prisons is clear to see?

Since NAIDOC week developed from the Day of Mourning in 1938, have we just simply changed focus from protesting to celebrating and is this a positive thing or a politically correct move?

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are divided on the issue as much as myself, a non-indigenous Australian.

There’s two ways to look at it. Some Aboriginal groups embrace the day and relish the opportunity to talk to school groups about their culture and to share their heritage. It is important to set aside a week to highlight the indigenous culture and history in a positive light and show the achievements that have been made. To have a formal assembly acknowledging the people of the land is the first step to recognition. For non-indigenous Australians to watch a flag-raising ceremony or a cultural dance that is being performed by indigenous Australians, is a visceral way allow the next generation to respect and honour part of their heritage.

But some see NAIDOC as hypocritical.

It is seen as offensive that there is a day set aside to celebrate but not a day of protest. NAIDOC seems to be more about euphemistic remembrance but not realistic or promoting active discussion about the oppression issues still at large. Seeing as all of Australia’s history is entwined with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders’ heritage and stories, it seems pitiful that there is one week put aside, as a token gesture, to focus on this.

If Aboriginal culture is the very essence of this land, shouldn’t we have it guide all our political decisions and be the perspective that drives all our society developments?

All i know for certain is what I’ve seen. I interviewed a teacher who organised a NAIDOC day celebration at a public school this week, the feeling of recognition of indigenous culture was largely evident and was it was encouraging to see the integration of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students embracing the elements of their local history.

The Koori students choreographed their own dance about an eagle and performed it for all the students and teachers. At the end of the performance there was a great applause and respect and awe. This was significant as it showed that there was nothing weird or different going on but a part of Australian, indigenous and non-indigenous, culture being represented and appreciated.

It is important that Aboriginal culture become the ‘norm’ and part of our everyday Australian existence, not just a date on a calendar each year. It is important to be positive but also realistic and it should become part of our everyday thinking to integrate indigenous ideas about the land and society into our daily lives, the important week to focus on is next week. When the music stops and the flags are taken down.

Wherever you stand now, be it your desk, home or office, it is important to recognise the land we are on and, even in our own minds at least, acknowledge the peoples that have tread before us.

When the indigenous culture becomes part of our decision-making because we live here on Australian soil too, then we can make true progress to integrate and work toward what we want to be.

A better Australia.

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