The first week in July is NAIDOC Week here in Australia—a time dedicated to celebrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, culture and achievements. This year (2017) the celebrations are entitled Our Languages Matter and they are focussed on the unique and essential role that Indigenous languages play in cultural identity, linking people through story and song to their land, water, history, spirituality and rites.
Some 250 distinct Indigenous language groups covered the continent at first (significant) European contact in the late eighteenth century. Most of these languages would have had several dialects, so that the total number of named varieties would have run to many hundreds.
Today only around 120 of those languages are still spoken and many are at risk of being lost as Elders pass on.
National NAIDOC Committee Co-Chair Anne Martin said, ’Aboriginal and Torres Strait languages are not just a means of communication, they express knowledge about everything: law, geography, history, family and human relationships, philosophy, religion, anatomy, childcare, health, caring for country, astronomy, biology and food. Each language is associated with an area of land and has a deep spiritual significance and it is through their own languages, that Indigenous nations maintain their connection with their ancestors, land and law.’
Committee Co-Chair Benjamin Mitchell hopes that the theme will shine a spotlight on the programs and community groups working to preserve, revitalise or record Indigenous languages, and encourage all Australians to notice the use of Indigenous languages in their community.
‘Nationally, many place names for our suburbs, rivers, mountains and parks are Indigenous language words. Noticing and paying attention to these words will generate greater appreciation and respect for the significance of language among all Australians. The preservation and revitalisation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages – the original languages of this nation – is the preservation of priceless treasure, not just for Indigenous peoples, but for everyone.’
Wherever you live in the world, NAIDOC Week in Australia is a powerful invitation to notice, celebrate and preserve the rich heritage of Indigenous languages of the country you inhabit.
Innovative Resources has had the privilege of collaborating with SNAICC in the production of Talking Up Our Strengths, a resource that celebrates the strengths and resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.