The escalating protests against racism in the USA spilling over to many other cities across the globe over the past week, not only touched many Australians, but coincided with the celebration of National Reconciliation Week (NRW).
Eileen Newport, Co-Chair and Secretary of the Galari Lachlan Reconciliation Group, takes a look at the significance of NRW in these uncertain and unprecedented times brought about by COVID-19.
National Reconciliation Week is celebrated each year from 27 May to 3 June and commemorates two significant events: the successful 1967 referendum and the High Court Mabo decision. It is a time for all Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures, and achievements, and to explore how each of us can contribute to achieving reconciliation in Australia.
The theme this year is ‘In this together’. The COVID-19 virus has promoted an awareness of our need to take care of one another and more recently the demonstrations and violence in the United States should cause us to really think about our attitudes to and laws regarding our own Aboriginal communities.
In light of these protests, we should all think about the role we can play in national reconciliation. Perhaps we can start with asking ourselves the following questions: Is our police force and other government bodies free from racism? Are our laws fair to all and without prejudice to our Aboriginal communities? What can we do about the disproportionate number of Aboriginal people in prisons? How can we improve health and housing for them? What can I do in my own community to combat racism?
If we lead by example in our ordinary everyday life, refuse to tolerate racism of any kind and try where we can to change unjust laws and practises, we can make a difference. Reconciliation has been described as a ‘grass roots’ movement – it starts in our own communities.
Our group, Galari Lachlan Reconciliation Group, was formed to foster respectful relationships between the wider Parkes community and our Wiradjuri and other nation’s community. We support the community by acknowledging the history of the Wiradjuri in the Parkes Shire and the cultural richness and contribution they have made to the wider community.
In our own community we have Wiradjuri language and culture lessons in most of the schools along with the Aboriginal Educational Consultative Group. A positive outcome of this is a decrease in racism amongst the students and a greater awareness of the richness and knowledge of the Wiradjuri nation. Groups like the Elders Advisory Group partner with Parkes Shire Council on decision making, and the Parkes Aboriginal Community Working Party looks at issues within the local community. Parkes is fortunate to have Mandy Brown as the Aboriginal Project Officer and the support of agencies like Neighborhood Central.
Reconciliation NSW states that: “Reconciliation must live in the hearts, minds and actions of all Australians as we move forward, creating a nation strengthened by respectful relationships between the wider Australian community, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”
In ending I would like to make some suggestions to celebrate Reconciliation Week and Wiradjuri culture: Cook a dish using native ingredients; Go to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander events; Find out about the mob in your local area; Read “Welcome to Country” by Marcia Langton, as well as “Australia Day” by Stan Grant Jnr; and Support organisations and peak bodies to fight for the rights of indigenous people.