Be a voice for generations was the theme for last month's National Reconciliation Week. It’s perfectly aligned to the discussion we should be having in the lead-up to the referendum where we will hopefully come together and alter our constitution to recognise the First People of Australia.
As the oldest civilisation in the world, it’s fair to say that this recognition has been a long time coming. We should be able to contribute legally to the system in which we operate. There should have been treaties between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people from the beginning. We must question why we don’t have a strong voice in matters pertaining to us, and how we can fix this issue in the 21st century.
A voice for generations is a brave theme, and we should take a moment to consider what it means. A voice needs to be able to speak freely, honestly and feel safe. Voices need to be heard and listened to. It’s one thing to say we encourage diversity, but it’s another to incorporate different opinions and viewpoints. To this end, as part of our National Reconciliation Week activities we attempted to tackle this theme by applying a creative lens and hosting a discussion that spanned generations – we had voices from our youth, Elders, educators and those charged with recording our stories.
As an educator, I know that breakthroughs happen when there are strong voices brave enough to have uncomfortable conversations. Being heard is the start but we need to follow through and make change.
The people listening to our voice must also incorporate it into practice, create solutions and make room for Aboriginal people to add their ideas. It’s not Aboriginal people’s role to create a solution on what a voice to parliament looks like. Everyone has a role in making sure we have an Aboriginal lens over place and space.
For my entire life I have heard and witnessed many saying a community voice is important, we want to codesign service delivery. We want to move the dial, we want community to lean in give it their commitment and time and yet the system fails. There have been a lot of attempts with different bodies established, invested in, then either abolished, defunded or other voices have said they are no longer required. It would easy to be jaded, bitter and twisted about this, but God forbid you turn into an angry Aboriginal. But today is a new day and I will lean in again. I will stand on the strength acknowledging the countless voices of the previous generations of Lore keepers, who have ensured our governance systems were in perfect balance and harmony on this country that protected our people, country, customs and way of life.
Aboriginal people should be the ones making the decisions on issues pertinent to us. When have we been able to make those decisions in the past? We haven’t. How much of western society has incorporated Aboriginal culture? So little, and we have to think about where Aboriginal voices and culture should be integrated into Australia more and ask the question how can we truly and authentically serve the space in which we’re placed?
We must realise that we come with different approaches. Our young people are metabolising thoughts and words so quickly, but for older generations, it’s a different language. This is the heart of a voice for generations – listening and hearing each other to make meaningful impact.
We have created the ‘resurgence projects’ wellbeing projects which use Aboriginal methodology to bring a group of people together so we all can connect and have these conversations. We need to nurture an environment where we can grow and learn, so young people can feed into it and provide their voice. We want young people who are strong in cultural identity to contribute to their world and the workplace.
Cultural resurgence is important as we can connect with Aboriginal history and keep our traditions alive. It is vital for us to continue these and keep our culture thriving.
2023’s theme allows for a deeper understanding of the importance of young Aboriginal voices – they are the new generation, and their thoughts are vital for our progression. ‘Being a voice for this generation’ also opens the conversation about how we need to amplify Aboriginal voices and let us make decisions on topics that involve us.
We need a voice to be heard in a system that recognises it. Stand with us, so we can be great together.
Cherie Johnson is a Gamilaroi and Weilwun woman who resides in Newcastle, NSW and participates as an active member of the Awabakal Community. Cherie is an Aboriginal arts and education consultant, the founder of Speaking of Colour.