Each year NAIDOC Week celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and encourages First Nations people to continue to press for their right to participate in society as equal members. It also calls on non-Indigenous Australians to show respect and join in celebrating First Nations cultures and aspirations. We are committed to listening to their voices.
NAIDOC Week originated in protest. First Australians claimed that it was inappropriate to celebrate Australia Day on the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet, an event which marked the beginning of their dispossession. They began to organise in order to find practical recognition by other Australians of their right to participate in society as equal members. They faced opposition at every corner. On the question of Australia’s national day they still face opposition, but have now built considerable support in the wider community. Australia Day now provokes serious reflection among all Australians on whether its link to the arrival of Governor in Sydney Harbour should be sustained.
Each year the theme of NAIDOC Week reflects current events and moods. Last year the theme was Heal Country, which echoed both the growing awareness in the wider Australian society of the importance of respect for the natural environment and the specific outrage at the destruction of Juukan Gorge.
This year the theme is Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up! Its tone is urgent and impatient, expressing frustration at the resistance to change, but also the recognition that new possibilities are within reach. This year First Nations men and women have continued to die in custody. More Indigenous children, too, have been separated from their families and suffer in detention centres. The frustration and anger of people without employment and with loose connections to society have also found expression in violence. These things call for protest and for the need for change.
This year, however, has also seen the election of a Federal Government promising to seek endorsement of the Uluru Statement in a referendum, and signs that the path to an Indigenous voice to Parliament may be open. The disrespectful and discriminatory BasicsCard, which disproportionately impacts First Nations communities, will also be withdrawn. Within the broader culture, too, First Nations sportspersons, artists, actors and people in professions and public life have won public respect and received recognition and apologies for past disrespect and discrimination.
Although First Australians continue to suffer discrimination and racist attitudes that are deeply rooted in Australia, these signs of recognition are something to build on. At Jesuit Social Services, where many of the people whom we accompany and among our staff are First Nations people, we share the hunger for change that will enable young people to grow proud of their heritage and confident for their future. We should expect and applaud the people, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, who get up, stand up and show up in the labour of building a better Australia.