This Sunday the 8th of July marked the beginning of NAIDOC Week which celebrates the long history, vibrant culture and significant achievements of Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This week is an important time of the year to celebrate and support those parts of our community that Australia has so desperately worked to silence, diminish and systematically marginalise. It is the time of the year for genuine, authentic and often difficult introspection where we find our own personal place in the ongoing national narrative of racial trauma.
NAIDOC Week has aimed to shed some light on race relations in Australia. Given the trauma of colonialism, and the fact that Australia still remains a settler colonial state, race has been and will continue to be a topic that gives rise to conflict. Now I admit, I’m only 22 years old and I don’t hold all the answers on how to fix Australia but I’m pretty sure that ignoring the glaring problem we have isn’t the best solution. After all, it hasn’t gone away yet, and neither have the original custodians of the land and it’s been over a century. Clearly, refusing to talk about race, or pretending it isn’t an issue isn’t working.
This year’s NAIDOC Week theme is “Because of Her, We Can!” This theme focuses on Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander women and the significant roles they have played, and continue to play, in our communities. These roles have remained unsung for a long time, as First Nations women have been doubly sidelined for both their race and their womanhood. These women have dealt with systemic barriers to healthcare, employment, housing, social security, and much more. And yet, they have been resilient. They have resisted. They have been part of revolutionary movements and have broken down institutional systems of oppression as well as gender stereotypes.
And so we remember them. We remember the pioneers like Evelyn Scott, Fannie Cochrane-Smith, and Truganini. We acknowledge the trailblazers like Evonne Goolagong Cawley, Sally Morgan, and Joyce Clague. We salute their passion and strength. We salute the way they have kept their culture strong, their communities united, and their languages and knowledge alive. We salute the inspiration they provide to countless First Nations women, and the role they serve in our communities.
But it is simply not good enough to learn a few names and salute them. It is not good enough to attend a few events, share a hashtag on social media, and have a bush tucker themed breakfast. Our country has a bloody and violent history, and the scars that that history has left behind continue to ache today. While it is important to remember the beauty and positivism of First Nations people in the face of adversity, we cannot celebrate with them as though we have not been the cause of their pain.
In order to truly celebrate NAIDOC Week, we need to make a commitment to change. Real change requires hard work. It requires effort. And if we really and truly want to heal our nation, we all need to put the work in. We need to make sure we are making our voices heard in our political system. We need to show that we do care about police brutality, about Indigenous deaths in custody, about environment degradation of Country, about Indigenous research and ways of disseminating knowledge. We need to make sure that our education system prioritises First Nations history as told by First Nations voices and doesn’t just treat it as a one off footnote or with sanitised platitudes. We need to make sure that we improve healthcare for First Nations folk and work on actively removing medical biases. We need to ensure we no longer treat Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander peoples as a homogenised monolith. We need to, we need to, we need to. There’s so much work to be done and we simply cannot afford to be complacent anymore.
The world is a scary place right now – and I don’t want to sound like I’m fearmongering but as a young woman of colour, I am afraid. There’s rising global xenophobia, racial and ethnocentric tensions, and somehow we have Nazis again. So it’s no longer good enough to hope someone else is going to fix our problems for us. You cannot expect to do the same shit five hundred times and expect a different outcome. We cannot expect to ignore the problems of our First Nations siblings and hope they go away. We cannot expect to refuse all responsibility in our roles in the systemic marginalisation of First Nations people and expect them to feel like this nation has been held adequately accountable. We cannot expect to have a good time during NAIDOC Week and ignore the reason why it exists in the first place.
So this week, don’t just go out and have a good time. Seriously sit down and think to yourself – where do I belong in all this? What terrible racist learned behaviours do I have within me that I should actively unlearn? What difficult conversations should I initiate with friends and family no matter how much discomfort it causes us? In what way can I educate myself and take the initiative to read up about issues I don’t understand all that well? And how can I ensure that my actions and impacts have real material benefits to First Nations folk in the real world?
I know this isn’t an easy task. I know most of you are on holiday right now. I know having to read such “depressing” and “guilt-enhancing” articles isn’t particularly relaxing. But you know what? You can leave a pig-headed comment and turn your phone off and go back to not thinking about this until, possibly, the next NAIDOC Week. But the people this week is for will still be around, and their problems are not going to go away so easily.
So this NAIDOC Week, make a change. Put the effort in and do your part in healing Australia. Who knows, in a couple of years’ time, your contributions and the contributions of those around you may ensure that we do not need to have this conversation again and again.
Ishita Mathur | @ishitamathur7
Ishita smashed out this article in 20 minutes at 11:15 PM and is now convinced she was bitten by a radioactive student journalist.