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NAIDOC: Languages matter because people matter

  • 30 June 2017

The National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) week originated in the conviction that the Australia Day celebration presented a one-sided image of Australia's history.

Australia Day celebrated uncritically the disruption to the culture and life of the earlier inhabitants of the land which followed the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney cove. It did not celebrate the cultures and peoples who were destroyed by European settlement.

NAIDOC week embodies the desire of Indigenous Australians to celebrate their own rich cultures that preceded the European conquest and continue to form an irreplaceable strand of Australian identity.

This year Naidoc Week is particularly significant because it is held in the shadow of the Uluru declaration by the First Nations National Constitutional Convention. In response to the desire that Indigenous Australians should be appropriately recognised in the Australian Constitution, representatives of Indigenous communities met to make an agreed statement about what that recognition should mean.

They made it clear that any action should be more than symbolic. It should give Indigenous Australians a status that guarantees them a say in the measures that affect them. It was not acceptable to make them objects of government decisions, as they have been in the Intervention. They must be agents, not just talked about, but empowered to speak authoritatively.

The theme of the week is 'Our Languages matter'. It lies at the heart of the Uluru statement. It also poses questions about the way in which we conceive our identity as a nation, and so about how we should respond to the Uluru statement.

To say that our languages matter implies that in Australia we communicate in many languages. English is the language of business and public life, but many other languages, both Indigenous and introduced, are the primary languages of groups of Australians. Many people speak more than one language, an endowment to be praised, not lamented.

Language is much more than a means of communication. It is an emblem of our tribe, marking out those who are our near relatives and those who are strangers. Language shapes how we interact with others. To say that our languages matter implies that no one language is given absolute precedence over others. Diverse languages may have precedence in different areas of our lives.


"An Australia that is seen as multilingual while sharing English as its common language, and as multicultural and multireligious while sharing a common national identity, is richer and more