You and me and NAIDOC

Aunty Julie Smith, Aboriginal Associate of ARTD shared some of her thoughts about NAIDOC with one of ARTD’s Senior Managers Paula Shaw, who is based in Brisbane. Julie and Paula have worked together on a range of projects such as an evaluation of the Women’s Bail Support program and the Queensland Crime and Corruption Committee’s community consultations to help improve their services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Queenslanders. They are currently collaborating for the evaluation of the Indigenous Girl’s STEM Academy for the National Indigenous Australian’s Agency. Here’s their conversation.

What does NAIDOC mean to you?

At my age now, it’s a real deep time of reflection. In the past, when I was younger, it was just a time of celebration and getting together with the mob and having just catch up on good yarns. But now it’s more about reflection. Sometimes it’s lamenting. But most of the time it’s amazing what comes up, that sparks you and just gives you your motivation and belief and hope in youth. That’s the part that exciting – I want to be around to see some of those young people achieve their aspirations.

Over the years what are some highlights that stand out for you about NAIDOC celebrations you’ve been to or been a part of?

The ones that I’ve enjoyed the most have been in communities. So when I think of Musgrave Park, I’ve always had a wonderful time there. When I think of Inala, I always have a wonderful time out there. That’s where you see and you feel the energy of being together with the mob. And you see the excitement. Those community-based events are the ones that I find most inspiring and enjoyable.

And I guess you know, now that I am much more with the elders, I thoroughly enjoy just sitting down and all of us just having a good natter about anything and everything. When it’s not about social justice or human rights, or where to next about making things to contribute and making a difference, it’s a time where we just have conversations about times growing up. Reminiscing, and having a good laugh and recognising that while there are some things we seem to be taking three steps forward and five steps back, there’s still movement. And as long as there’s movement, there’s got to be hope in things being a bit different.

I think probably, one of the most important things when we reflect is, particularly after October last year, since the referendum we’re much more cognisant of the millions that actually said “yes”. The ones that said no, they’ve always been there. It’s the ones that have said “yes”, that we that we need to acknowledge and honour.

On the flip side of you acknowledging the people who have said yes, what can non-Indigenous people do to be part of NAIDOC, to be part of the movement towards making things different and better for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia? How can we be purposefully involved with something like NAIDOC?

Owning the truth. Owning the truth about this country.  If you’re going to call Australia home, if you’re going to say you’re Australian, whether you’re a settler, a migrant, a refugee – knowing and valuing what you enjoy about this country today and how it has been taken care of for 65,000 years before anybody else came here. And taking care of country.

As my mother used to say, who wasn’t from this country but is an indigenous woman, she used to say “I know how to sit in my husband’s country.” And sitting there and enjoying it also means respecting it.

You know, I don’t live in my country – Kalkadoon country. I live in Yugembeh land – and it borders Munanjali, Yuggera and Turrbul lands and waters. I sit as a guest in those custodians’ lands and waters, salt waters and fresh waters. I have to take care of the space which I occupy, because they and their ancestors graciously allow me to enjoy where I am.

I must admit I understand far more clearly today that reconciliation in the English language is about returning to friendly terms. It’s about something that was whole and has been broken.

That has never happened in this country. I don’t think reconciliation is the word. I think if there’s anything to be reconciled, it is how Uncle used to say it to me. He said reconcile with the country in which you sit, reconcile with the country that you came from. If we do that, then we have capacity to take care of this land that we call Australia so that we can all enjoy it, in peace and harmony.

What do you think about this year’s theme “Keep the fire burning”

You know, fire is our friend. And if we respect fire, then we know how to live with it.

What are you looking forward to most this year for NAIDOC?

It’s fun. I’m really looking forward to catching up with all the elders for lunch and just. talking and reminiscing and just laughing.

On a practical level what would you like to see non-Indigenous Australians – people who call themselves Australians, who sit on this land – do this NAIDOC week?

Go to one of the events and enjoy the company and enjoy the stories.

And go to a Bangara dance performance. They’re wonderful!

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