When I’m writing this, it is currently the 27th of May, a day which marks the beginning of Reconciliation Week (held from May 27 to June 3). In Australia, this week is dedicated to the growing of respectful relationships between our Indigenous peoples, being the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; and Australians of other cultural heritage.
These two dates are very special and hold great meaning to Australians, marking the dates of significant events of Indigenous history in colonized Australia. The 1967 Referendum of May 27 gave the Commonwealth the power to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and recognize them in the national census. On the 3rd of June, the Mabo Decision was legalized, which legally recognized that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have a special relationship to the land. It paved the way for Native Title, and overturned the title of Terra Nullius (“nobody’s land”) given to Australia upon the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788.
The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation held the first Reconciliation Week in 1996, and this year marks its 22nd edition. Week follows National Sorry Day, held on the 26th of May and that remembers and commemorates the mistreatment of the country’s Indigenous Peoples. All Australians are encouraged to take part in this week of forging new and lasting relationships, and take the time to get to know the rich and diverse culture and people who have treasured this land we call home for thousands of years.
Before I dive into Reconciliation Week and all its components, I think I should make clear for all of you reading this, and who are not familiar with our Indigenous Australians, a brief overview of the peoples to whom I’ll be referring to. Aboriginal Australians are those people indigenous to mainland Australia and the island of Tasmania, while Torres Strait Islander people are those belonging to the Torres Strait Islands of Queensland; this group of people are distinct from those of the Aboriginal tribes and so are referred to under a different name. Of course, these are very broad names for the many tribes that inhabited Australia, with over 500 different clan groups with different cultures, beliefs, and languages. Some of these have died out as a result of white settlers and so, it is for this reason (among others) that Reconciliation Week is such an important part of modern Australia and us Australians.
Historically, the relationship between Indigenous Australians and Australian settlers is not one that is celebrated, with many wrongs being committed against those we call the First Australians. This week, however, is the week in which we take the steps to reconciliation, where, as a nation, we come together to respect and apologise to those to which Australia owes so much.
Reconciliation Australia, an independent, national not-for-profit organisation which initiates the week, says:
“We believe in fairness for everyone, that our diversity makes us richer, and that together, we are stronger…”
Reconciliation Australia also proposes a country in which:
- Australians value Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous cultures, rights and experiences.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have access to basic rights such as health and education.
- Political, business and community structures uphold equal opportunity for all Australians.
- Australian society recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and heritage as a part of the nation’s identity.
Coming from the perspective of a non-Indigenous Australian, I cannot quite comprehend the full meaning this week may have on the lives of Indigenous Australians – I believe no one but these Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can. However, as a person who has a great love for history and building new relationships, Reconciliation Week has always been a very important part of the way I view my country as well as my education and myself.
Growing up, children are taught in great depth about the history of Australia, both prior to white settlement and after, both the good and the bad. This education, the education I continue to expand upon, is one I am extremely grateful for as an individual who thoroughly enjoys history, and actively wants to play a part in forging new relationships across many diverse cultures; and in doing so, hopefully, help contribute to mending the rift between the First Australians and non-Indigenous Australians such as myself.
Reconciliation Week is celebrated in a wide array of ways, marches being quite popular for the people of many cities throughout Australia. My own year level organized a march for school at the beginning of the week to show our support of Indigenous peoples and their cultures. Social gatherings are a popular way of showing support, with breakfast and lunch gatherings a favorite of many. Sporting events hold games dedicated to respecting and supporting the various Indigenous cultures, many creating specific uniforms that pay homage to the art and culture of the First Australians. Services of remembrance and exhibitions are also relatively popular. Any way of demonstrating appreciation for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is valued and highly supported during this week (of course this is the same all year round, but a bit more so during this period of time).
Not only is Reconciliation Week our way of mending the bond between Indigenous Australians and non-Indigenous Australians, but it is also a way in which we hope to greatly reduce the racism present in our society; not only racism targeted against Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders but against all those who experience racism in its various forms. While it will most likely be impossible to completely eradicate racism (unfortunately), one can only hope that a week like this (with all its events) will support and advertise the acceptance and sharing of all cultures.
While we can never fix the wrongs that happened in the past, we can fix the wrongs that are happening today, and, I believe, Reconciliation Week, a week that unifies all Australians, is just one way that Australia is doing that. Imagine a world without racism and segregation. A world without judgement of a person’s cultural beliefs – what a wonderful world.
Credits: abc.net, NACCHO