GROWING UP I never felt connected to my Aboriginal culture. My family had lost it generations ago just so they could survive. While I was aware that, yes, I was Aboriginal and had some idea about where our mob was from, to be quite honest — I really knew nothing of my cultural lineage.
Let me start with this, my grandfather had to lie about being Aboriginal.
Being denied of my Aboriginal heritage, meant I experienced first-hand some of the intergenerational trauma — and its lasting effects of disconnection and stress — which so many young First Nations people face today. Just to put things into perspective, it’s estimated that, at a minimum, one-third of the total Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population may be affected by intergenerational trauma, as descendants of the Stolen Generation.
Even when I began learning about Aboriginal history during school or tried asking questions, there were never answers — the education system barely scratched the surface — so, I turned to the Elders.
It was these Elders who both informed and inspired me, teaching me about our language, dreamtime stories, different lands, traditional food — and my family tree. That’s why this year’s NAIDOC Week — “For Our Elders” — not only means so much to me, but has profound impact amongst all Aboriginal Australians, especially when our culture isn’t as celebrated as it should be.
For context, us mob often refer to NAIDOC Week as ‘Blak Christmas,’ where we honour everyone’s achievements and acknowledge just how far we’ve come as the oldest living culture in the world. To have a week dedicated to celebrating the vital contributions and efforts of our Elders as cultural knowledge holders, guides and storytellers across generations — is significant beyond words. But, I do find it difficult to put into words how I feel about NAIDOC Week more generally.
I’ve noticed over the years that while NAIDOC Week has become a bigger affair, it’s also starting to resemble more of a corporate event, with the red, black and yellow colours simply plastered across logos. It’s neither community-focused or led. For that reason, I’ve made conscious efforts to attend such events which are organised or curated by First Nations people. Part of my celebrations this year included a visit to THE LUME’s ‘Connection’ exhibition — a new immersive experience two years in the making, which celebrates art, culture and music in a unique way, by exhibiting more than 110 creatives. It’s also the largest representation of First People’s art and culture ever. I’ve been using the week to connect with other mob and family, knowing all to well that while it can be a difficult time to reflect on all our adversities — it’s important to check in and chat.
There’s also this part of me, though, that feels sad for everything my ancestors have endured to stay alive. Their children were stolen, homes were seized, and some had their lives taken away from them. But I’m proud of their strength and determination — as they fought back while suffering so we could still be here.
Without our Elders, our culture wouldn’t have survived for as long.
While NAIDOC Week is growing, I think some people still feel a disconnect with it and aren’t entirely sure how to show their respect or mark the occasion. For me, what I would like to see people doing during this NAIDOC Week (and every other NAIDOC Week, to be honest) is more active celebration in the community-led events rather than corporate tokenism. Attend the events, the marches, the exhibitions. Take the time to really immerse yourself in our culture, support Blak-owned businesses, listen to Blak artists and commit to learning as much about First Nations history and policies — to help close the gap.
I know celebrating Aboriginal people has come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. My hope is that some day, NAIDOC Week isn’t the only time people recognise our culture. Instead, it becomes something we consider daily.