What does 26 January mean to you?
A day off? The Triple J Hottest 100 count down? A holiday to enjoy with family and friends? Perhaps for the patriotic, even a time to recognise and celebrate how great it is to be Australian?
For others, it is a time for new beginnings with citizenship ceremonies held across the nation to welcome new residents.
Have you ever considered this is not how we all celebrate 26 Jan.? For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people this day holds a very different type of significance: mourning; anger; celebration; survival.
For some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, 26 January isn’t a day for celebration; instead it represents a day on which their way of life changed forever. Rather than celebrate, 26 January is commemoration of a deep loss – loss of land ownership, connection to family, human rights, right to practise culture and self-determination.
For other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, it is a celebration of the survival of people and culture.
The National Australia Day Council, founded in 1979, called Australia Day “…a day to reflect on what we have achieved and what we can be proud of in our great nation,” and a “day for us to re-commit to making Australia an even better place for the generations to come”.
When celebrating what it is to be an Australian this 26 Jan. it is important to remember our nation’s first people, recognise the invasion and history but not let this dictate the future.
We must recognise the strength of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, acknowledge the strength in their culture and their determination to hold onto traditional customs and languages.
And we must acknowledge the circumstances in which the first white settlers came to Australia – ‘inhabiting’ a land which had already been inhabited for over 70,000 thousand years and declaring it terra nullius (the land that belongs to no one).
Finally, acknowledge the challenges and issues which affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people today, including inter-generational trauma caused by colonisation; shorter life expectancy and higher infant mortality than non-Indigenous Australians; high instances of family violence; and the huge over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids in out-of-home care.
This Tuesday, it is important to reflect on these differences and consider how we can create a day all Australians can celebrate. Some culturally responsible ways to celebrate diversity and acknowledge history would be to:
- If attending an event, encourage the organisers to arrange a Welcome to Country by a local elder or traditional owner.
- Acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land and pay respects to elders past and present wherever you are on 26 January.
- If you are an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, share your story on social media with the hashtag #StoriesOfSurvival – your story will then appear in the Survival Day newsfeed on NITV’s homepage.
- Attend an event that celebrates Aboriginal culture and commemorates “Australia Day” in a culturally responsible way such as Yabun Festival, Saltwater Freshwater or Melbourne’s official Survival Day event Share the Spirit.