As a non-Indigenous Australian man, I confess to being a little nervous about penning a blog post about NAIDOC Week, which runs from 8-15 November this year (later than the usual July dates due to COVID-19). This time is about our First Nations people, and I feel a little like an intruder.
Standing for “National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee”, NAIDOC has its roots in the 1920s and 1930s as a protest against the status and treatment of our Indigenous peoples. Nowadays the week – which sometimes extends over the month – is a celebration of the history, culture and achievements of these First Australians.
So while with trepidation, I am also embracing the chance to reflect on why I personally believe NAIDOC Week is so special and why we all need it:
1. First Australians have had and continue to have unfair struggles
Sadly my starting point is the disparity between life experiences of First Australian peoples compared to the majority of us from non-Indigenous backgrounds. The statistics are shocking, necessitating a national government policy called, strikingly, “Closing the Gap”. Just a couple of the stats include:
- A child death rate of 146 per 100,000 for Indigenous children, compared to 70 per 100,000 for non-Indigenous children – twice as high!*
- Life expectancy of 71.6 years and 75.6 years for Indigenous males and females, compared to 80.2 and 83.4 years for non-Indigenous males and females – a gap of 8.6 and 7.8 years!** However in 2018, the median age at death for Indigenous Australians was 60, compared with 82 for non-Indigenous Australians.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders aged between 15 and 24 are almost four times more likely to commit suicide than non-Indigenous people the same age.***
These numbers are only a small part of the picture, and do not include challenges like rates of incarceration, deaths in custody, low levels of education, and the general blight of racism. These are unfair and not right.
However – this is not the whole picture! Despite these sobering realities I do not see our Indigenous peoples as victims and helpless pawns forever defeated by history. There are many other reasons to celebrate NAIDOC Week.
2. First Australian have an amazing culture
Australia is a unique country in the world, marked by a rich, vibrant and unique contribution from our First Australian peoples. No one else has their didgeridoos and boomerangs, art and dance, dreamtime stories and connection to country.
I have to confess that my perspective on this comes from my own experience of having grown up in an Indigenous community, and from having lived overseas and missing home, but I still feel a sense of pride whenever First Australians are represented in the image we project to the world. I feel a sense that this beautiful and ancient culture is ours, and we’re so blessed to have it.
3. First Australians have much to teach us, to build a better Australia
As someone who is wired to rush through life, being busy and productive and ticking off my never ending to-do list, I admire and quite honestly envy our First Australians’ approach to life. In fact, I find myself becoming a student of their values and rhythms, and reckon they hold powerful truths we could all benefit from.
One of these is asking “who is your mob?” where they cherish the past, our roots and the people who we come from, and so intentionally recognise our cultural identity. We are not islands but connected to our ancestors, and knowing this is invaluable to establishing where we fit in now and how we will see and build the future.
Another priceless lesson is their practice of yarning or conversation, where they take the time to sit down and talk, to tell stories, to listen and to learn from each other, and together work out solutions. My nature fights this, but as I practice this discipline I start to see different solutions and experience different feelings of what progress might be.
4. First Australians are people like me
The Bible tells me that God made all people and that each is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), and Jesus tells me that I should “love my neighbour as I love myself” (Mark 12:31). My First Australian neighbours were made by God just like I was, and each have hopes and dreams and fears and struggles just like I do.
However as a tiny minority (less than 3% of our population) their voice is small. Every single one of us have at times experienced being the odd one out, the newbie, the exception to the group – and know how good it is when we are included, when we are invited into the whole and made to feel special.
Like on our birthday when our family and friends celebrate us being born, NAIDOC Week is a special time to lift up and honour our First Australians.
May NAIDOC Week be a step, together, for all Australians to better understand each other, to revel in and learn from each other, for every week of the year. And like in any relationship, we need to acknowledge the hurts and the misunderstandings, but also to be open to being changed and having our perspective widened.
I know I’d like that, so that is what I seek for my First Australian friends and countrymen. In fact, it’s what I would like to see for our nation, and even our world.
About the author…
Tim works in Cross-Cultural Innovations for SU, seeking to foster vibrant ministry with people of minority cultures and other faiths. Prior to this Tim spent 8 years with The Feast in the UK, engaging youth of different faiths, and 10 years in various roles with SU Qld.
* [Indigenous child mortality and life expectancy] https://www.aihw.gov.au/getmedia/ed34c67c-e1aa-4d4f-9ff2-366ea6f27b52/aihw-aus-221-chapter-6-3.pdf.aspx
** [Indigenous life expectancy and deaths – Australian Institute of Health and Welfare] https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-health/indigenous-life-expectancy-and-deaths)
*** [Suicide rate for Indigenous Australians remains ‘distressingly high’ | NITV] https://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/nitv-news/article/2019/09/26/suicide-rate-indigenous-australians-remains-distressingly-high