Opinion

Language and cultural identity

by
June 26, 2017

Uncle Graham Briggs, gives instruction on didgeridoo playing to GOTAFE ceo Paul Culpan while Ken McLellan and Luke Bromley give it a go too.

NAIDOC Week, which starts Sunday and runs until Sunday, July 9, celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

It is celebrated not only in indigenous communities, but by all Australians.

The importance, resilience and richness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages will be the focus of national celebrations this year.

The 2017 theme ‘‘Our Languages Matter’’ aims to emphasise and celebrate the unique and essential role indigenous languages play in cultural identity, linking people to their land and water and in the transmission of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, spirituality and rites, through story and song.

Some 250 distinct indigenous language groups covered the continent at first (significant) European contact in the late 18th century.

Most of these languages would have had several dialects, so the total number of distinct varieties would have run to many hundreds.

Today only about 120 of those languages are still spoken and many are at risk of being lost as elders die.

National NAIDOC committee co-chair Anne Martin said languages were the breath of life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the theme would raise awareness of the status and importance of indigenous languages across the country.

‘‘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,’’ Ms Martin said.

‘‘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 the theme will highlight 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.

‘‘There is currently a wave of activity, with people in many communities working to learn more about their language, and to ensure they are passed on to the next generation before it is too late,’’ Mr Mitchell said.

In the Goulburn Valley, there is ongoing work on a local Yorta Yorta dictionary, and Yorta Yorta is being taught in a number of local schools.

‘‘Nationally, many place names for our suburbs, rivers, mountains and parks are indigenous language words,’’ Mr Mitchell said.

‘‘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.’’

From NAIDOC.org.au

You can support NAIDOC Week locally by taking part in the following activities:

●Breakfast and flag raising at Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-operative, Rumbalara Rd, Mooroopna, on Monday, July3 starting at 8am.

●Melbourne University’s Rural Health department guided tour of The Flats with Uncle Leon Saunders at 11.30am on Tuesday, July 4, at The Connection (on the causeway) followed by a light lunch and conversation. To register go to www.trybooking.com/290624

To check out what’s happening around the state go to http://vicnaidoc.com/

To find out more about NAIDOC Week and in particular the role of Uncle William Cooper in its origins go to www.naidoc.org.au/about/naidoc-history

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