NAIDOC Week message from Army's Elder - Uncle Roy
NAIDOC originally started back in 1957 when the first committee was formed, however really the idea for a day of celebration was built on the work of the Australian Aborigines League and the Australian Aborigines Progressive Association during the 1920s and 30s.
Back then, these groups were standing up for our rights and protesting about the status and treatment of Aboriginal people.
Ever since first contact with European colonisation, the rights of Aboriginal people kept getting ignored or taken away. We weren’t treated the same as non-Indigenous people, and the likes of William Cooper and Doug Nicholls lobbied the Government and the King to pass laws or policies to improve the life of Aboriginal people.
The letters and petitions they wrote fell on deaf ears, so they held the Day of Mourning, a protest march, in Sydney on Australia Day 1932. Some say it was one of the first and largest civil rights gatherings.
What those old blokes, William Cooper and Doug Nicholls, realised was if they wanted the Government to make changes they needed to let the Australian public know what was going on with Aboriginal people. And they needed to have a day to draw attention to these issues.
Doug Nichols later went on to become Governor of South Australia but before that, he was a Pastor and even briefly enlisted in the Citizen Military Forces in 1941, training at Seymour and Bonegilla before being posted to the 29th Battalion.
Through his religious work, and following on from the Day of Mourning, he established Aboriginal Sunday. A day for Australians of faith to consider what was happening to Aboriginal people.
By 1955 Aboriginal Sunday had moved from January to July and by 1974 the day evolved into an entire week of celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and heritage commencing on the first Sunday in July each year.
Over the years the name of the various committees that looked after NAIDOC changed, including the inclusion of Islander to acknowledge the cultural differences between the two Indigenous people of Australia, both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
So too the importance of NAIDOC Week has changed over the years. Starting out as a time of protest, NAIDOC Week has become an opportunity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to continue cross cultural exchanges and education for the broader Australian community.
For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, NAIDOC is an opportunity to celebrate our ongoing heritage and culture; a time to pass on ongoing traditions and establish new ones.
It is also a time of reflection, where all Australians can reflect on the past and present achievements of the first Australians and our communities, particularly highlighting achievements made in the previous twelve months.
For me personally, I recognise the importance of passing on my family’s history and living culture. As I get older, I know how important it is for me to pass on my stories, the stories of my father and my grandfather.
I look at NAIDOC Week as an opportunity to sit with my family and pass on these stories before they are lost in time. Because the thing about being successful in life – no matter what it is you do – is that you have to know who you are.
Knowing your history, culture and heritage gives you identity.
Knowing where you’re from and what mob you belong to, gives you strength.
And just like in the Army, knowing what your role is and how you fit in, gives you purpose and a sense of place.
This year’s NAIDOC theme is: We all stand on sacred ground: Learn, Respect and Celebrate. And I reckon there’s no better time than NAIDOC Week for all Australians to think about what that means. No matter what your background or where you’ve come from.