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Written By

Hannah Macri

College

College of Arts, Society and Education

Publish Date

10 November 2020

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Celebrating NAIDOC

As NAIDOC Week 2020 begins, Elders Gracie Smallwood, Dorothy Savage, and Leo Akee share their insights into the importance of celebrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture not just during one week, but every day.

NAIDOC stands for National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee. As Bindal Elder Dorothy Savage points out, NAIDOC week is a time of celebration. “NAIDOC is the one week of the year that we Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are able to speak up, act out  , and showcase our wonderful culture,” she says.

This week is also a time to commemorate and acknowledge the history of Australia. “It’s a time to promote the true history of this country,” Dorothy says. “The true history isn’t being taught in schools. The true history is still unknown; it’s a hidden history to this community and to Australia.”

“NAIDOC ensures that we as first nations peoples are being heard,” Mer Elder Leo Akee says. “There have been many injustices against our peoples, ever since colonisation began. NAIDOC is important to celebrate, but we don’t lose the focus of what NAIDOC means to every one of us because of our history and our culture.”

Bindal and Wulgurukaba Elder Professor Grace Smallwood says NAIDOC is an opportunity for the true history to be shared with all Australians. “During NAIDOC we can bring white Australians together with us to teach them about us being the oldest and longest-surviving culture in the world,” Grace says. “I’m very optimistic that once the true history of this country is made mandatory, NAIDOC celebrations will become an important subject for all Australians to celebrate as one.”

Always Was, Always Will Be

This year’s NAIDOC theme is always was, always will be. As each of these Elders point out, this statement finishes as always was, always will be Aboriginal land.

“When Captain Cook took possession of the whole of Torres Strait and Australia on behalf of the queen, there were already people living here,” Leo says. “People who governed themselves, who had cultural practices, who had communities. It’s not as if this country was laying barren and vacant.”

Grace says this theme is timely. “With all of the demonstrations happening, with people believing that first nations people shouldn’t have a right to some type of compensation, with mining companies mining on sacred sites and lands, with COVID and the economic downfall, it’s a wonderful time to have a theme for first nations peoples who have always taken care of the country,” she says.

“It’s very important that when people think about the theme always was, always will be, they instil in their minds and in their hearts that it really always was first nations peoples’ country,” Leo says. “And it’s important to continue to speak our languages, sing our songs, and perform our dances to demonstrate that this land always will be Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander land.”

NAIDOC helps to ensure that future generations of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians can work together to carry on the legacy, heritage and culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

“We celebrate NAIDOC and undertake our cultural activities so that when the Elders pass on, there’s a continuance of observing our cultural protocols and traditions,” Leo says.

“We like to share our culture in NAIDOC, but we’d also like to share every day of the year,” Dorothy says. “And we’re finding more and more people are joining in.”

“I look forward to Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians coming together as one,” Grace says. “I’m optimistic that my grandchildren and other grandchildren will join forces because they’ll be much more educated about our true history because it will be mandatory. They’ll promote NAIDOC, and they’ll promote our history and our culture.”

Want to know more about Indigenous history and culture? Visit JCU Indigenous Education and Research Centre.