NAIDOC Week may have wrapped up, but its key message will continue to resonate, especially now the government is seriously considering a constitutional referendum on Indigenous recognition.
In his NAIDOC Week address to the National Press Club, the Minister for Indigenous Affairs Ken Wyatt, said he would "bring forward a consensus option" during the current term of Parliament.
His address expanded on this year's NAIDOC theme of Voice. Treaty. Truth., which acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have always wanted an enhanced role in decision-making in Australia’s democracy.
Shannan Dodson is a Yawuru woman and a passionate advocate for the empowerment of Indigenous Australians.
She also serves on the National NAIDOC Committee and moderated a panel discussion last week, on the role of Indigenous businesses in the empowerment of First Nations people.
In the following interview for Central News, Ms Dodson touches on the reasons why we should proudly embrace Indigenous culture as part of our national identity and, by extension, our own identity.
You're primarily in communications now (at UTS) - when you were younger, were you motivated to follow a particular direction by any role models or members of your community?
I had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up - I still have no idea what I want to do when I grow up! But I grew up in a family of activists; very active in the political sphere and in Indigenous issues. I thought that world seemed very stressful and disappointing - and rewarding and frustrating - [but I thought] that wasn’t the path for me. [Now, I'm] actually going down more of a path that my Mum and Dad have gone down, which is basically to dedicate your life to Indigenous peoples and communities, and to ensure you’re supporting that empowerment process. Having a communications background was something that I fell into at university because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. But, I think that having those skills has really helped me put messages across to the wider Australian community in a way that’s really digestible, and to try and talk through some really complex issues in a way that people can understand.
Have you ever wanted to downplay your Indigenous identity?
I think definitely when I was growing up - when I was vulnerable and not as mature in my understanding of my identity. I think you will find a lot of Indigenous people who have fair skin grapple with where they fit and belong. There’s a term that’s often coined called "white-passing" where basically you go through the world with people just assuming that you’re Anglo. And I think sometimes I felt I had to do that growing up because there were so many negative stereotypes and racism around Aboriginal people, and so you were made to feel ashamed of that part of yourself. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised that it’s something that’s really special and makes me who I am.
In your schooling, were there any classes or extra-curricular activities that gave you a sense of Indigenous languages?
We learnt that there are Indigenous languages, but we weren’t actually taught any Indigenous languages. But that’s changed quite a lot now. It’s still getting there, but there are a lot of schools now that have language classes or they [invite] the local Indigenous elders to teach them language. In Broome, where my family’s from, our language is now taught in the schools as a more regular thing for all students - Indigenous and non-Indigenous. And I think that’s really important because it gives you a connection to the place that reaches back for tens of thousands of years. And language is really what makes us who we are - it’s how we express ourselves and connect ourselves to the wider world.
There have been stories recently about old books and other resources being uncovered and being used for language revitalisation. Is that something you see as promising?
There are oral histories and other materials that have been uncovered to help with language revitalisation, but also historical records passing down stories; cultural knowledge; songs; and different family and community histories. It’s important for us to preserve that history, our Australian history. Institutions like the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies work consistently to give Australians a more diverse view of our history. It’s something that we, all as Australians, can be really proud of and celebrate as being part of who we all are.
National Indigenous Art Fair
Indigenous art is in the spotlight, with the Federal Court's decision to fine Birupi Art $2.3m for selling fakes made in Indonesia, and a copyright dispute over the Aboriginal flag.
It was in this climate that Indigenous artists from all over Australia gathered at The Rocks in Sydney just before NAIDOC Week, for an Art Fair organised by the First Hand Solutions Aboriginal Corporation.
CEO Peter Cooley, described the fair as a rare chance to meet artists from some of Australia’s most remote communities.
“We are dedicated to ensuring Indigenous people are the architects of their own futures," he said, "and we are thrilled to offer artists the chance to travel to Sydney to promote and sell their artworks and host workshops demonstrating their unique arts and cultural practices.”
Among the artists was Cleonie Quayle, who is originally from Wilcannia and now runs Cleonie and Chloe Quayle Jewellery.
“We love to be involved in culture and get together with our people,” she said of the celebrations.
“It helps promote our culture but also [the] old tradition of making jewellery. It shows culture shifts, moves and changes with time."
Natalie Bateman from Dalmeny runs Keialuna Art, which features contemporary abstract designs.
“I paint about my family and my upbringing," she said. "My Mum’s family are Aboriginal and they’re sea people, so we spend a lot of time fishing and diving. All that is inspiring, so I come home and paint a lot of sea things.”
Gavin Chatfield from Batemans Bay’s Walbunja clan runs Gwiyaala Art with his partner Bronwen Smith.
“We paint what we see from home - in our culture down there. So, a lot of our stuff represents where we live,” he said.
“Culture is always within Indigenous people... it comes naturally to us. Some people go their whole lives not painting and then just pick up a brush and it comes out. That’s how it was for me.”
- Shannan Dodson interview and photo, Mark Kriedemann. Art story and pictures, Soofia Tariq. Editing, Sue Stephenson