Thursday, July 3, 2014

#NAIDOC

NAIDOC is often looked upon as a week where Indigenous Australia gets to showcase our talents, celebrate our strengths, come together as a community, and educate the rest of Australia about our history, our culture, and ourselves. This is undoubtedly true, and is something I have long enjoyed taking part in as a dancer (in my younger years), a workshop provider (sharing song and dance, games, and stories), and an event organiser (organising NAIDOC activities for schools, regions, and communities) 

This year though, I was asked my opinion about a NAIDOC event (which shall remain nameless) with a slight difference to the above. It was intended to be exclusively for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 

This challenged me to consider how essential is the 'educate wider Australia about our history, our culture, and ourselves' to a NAIDOC event. Is it an essential requirement? Do we need to be 'inclusive' of others in how we celebrate NAIDOC? If we have an Indigenous only event, are we being 'exclusive', and if we are, is this necessarily a bad thing?

When I think of all the work that is still being done, all the things that are still being fought for, I wonder how high on the list is 'educating others'? 

My initial response is that it must be fairly low on the priority list. It cannot stack up against the need for education, employment, health, housing, land rights, Sovereignty, or ending the youth suicide epidemic. Personally, I only ever really regard the issue of 'Reconciliation' (for lack of a better term) as a means of reducing racism. This I feel is important because it is the ignorance and animosity that exists against Indigenous people and cultures that facilitates government policies devoid of evidence, negotiation, or adequate planning. It is the same animosity and ignorance that helped water down land rights, that helped ignore the recommendations from the Bringing Them Home report, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in Custody, and the Little Children Are Sacred and implement programs and policies completely at odds with these reports. It is not for warm feelings of friendship, to alleviate white guilt, or to 'reconcile' with White Australia. It is simply to remove what I see as a roadblock on the path to progress. If friendships are made on this path, if people are able to better come to terms with living as part of a forced occupation, if we 'reconcile' our differences, that is lovely, but largely inconsequential to the cause of justice for Indigenous people.   

I do not need to be your friend to have respect for you, to understand elements of your story, or to support your cause for justice if it is denied. 

I don't need one week a year specially set aside for me to educate you about who I am in order for you to understand this, nor do I believe that it is really what NAIDOC is about. 

In the spirit of Self Determination, I support individuals and communities right to decide for themselves where to focus their energies, how to celebrate NAIDOC Week, and who to invite to the party. I also understand that government support, financial or otherwise, might quickly disappear if too many communities decide to hold events just for Indigenous people. I'm just not sure that is necessarily a bad thing either...

All I do know is that I view NAIDOC Week as a week to reflect on the year passed, to catch up with friends and family, to see some amazingly talented individuals do their thing, and  occasionally recommend some deadly young brother or sister out there for a dance job, a speakers gig, a workshop, or some other work they rely on to make ends meet... but to those who want to focus on the needs of themselves, their families and communities instead during NAIDOC Week, I say go for it. And to those who want to share their story with other Australians, I say go for it. 

That's what NAIDOC Week should be about. Doing what you think matters, in the way you want to do it, with the people you want to do it with. 

Respect those who have come before you, honour them, and join them in the ongoing struggle for justice, and for survival. 

Peace.