National Aboriginal and Islanders Day Observance Committee [NAIDOC]

This week 5th – 11th July  is NAIDOC week in Australia, a week of festivities to commemorate the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and heritage. In my work place we are coordinating over 70+ volunteers to attend the local Family Fun Day event, to serve tea and coffee, welcome, clean up and generally care for the elders and appreciate the ancient culture of the first people of this land.

NAIDOC-2015-

In our volunteer briefing this week, the event coordinator Scott Anderson taught us a few things about Indigenous culture. He taught us that when greeting an Indigenous person, the first thing they will ask you is “where are you from?” This is because value is given to your land and people.

naidoc volunteers 2

In our culture, one of the first questions we ask is “what job do you do?” and we place value on a persons profession and social standing. In Indigenous culture, value is placed on your place of origin, your people and your heritage. Most Indigenous people can trace their heritage back several generations, drawing their identity from the land and people of grandparents from both sides.

Scott’s advice to us when serving Indigenous elders was to always ask where they are from and enjoy hearing from them stories about their land, their people and their ancestral ties.

This value system is also played out in the custom of “Welcome to Country” or “Acknowledgement of Country” where upon the officiating of any business or ceremony, an elder will stand up publicly and acknolwedge and thank the elders of the land on which they stand. This acknowledgement is akin to thanking someone for allowing you in their home, wiping your feet, saying please and thank you. Indigenous people still call themselves traditional custodians of the land, despite the division of and the buying and selling of land by white landlords.

Naidoc 2

The final few things I have learned about Indigenous culture this week is that traditional dances were often designed to teach the children about which animals to hunt and to catch. This video shows one such traditional dance accompanied by a digeridoo and clap sticks. At this official ceremony, attended by the Brisbane Lord Mayor, the Indigenous elders prayed for the mayor and thanked him for his leadership of Brisbane and his respect for Indigenous culture.

What a wonderful week to enjoy and celebrate the narrative and cutlure of a different people, a different framework of identity and belonging, a different framework of respect, care and consideration for each other and for the land.

Narrative of Identity

In mid January this year,  hundreds of thousands of marchers and numerous world leaders took to the streets of Paris to support freedom of expression.  The slaying of 12 journalists in their Charlie Hedbo headquarters, for its polemical pieces and mocking illustrations of the prophet Muhammad, raised the issue of religious intolerance as well as freedom of expression.  France, the heartland of Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite, would not stand for censorship on this issue and the magazine lives on.

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-15551998

How does culture work like that? How does a nation spill half a million people onto the streets simultaneously to fight for an idenity? This phenomenon is not infrequent in times of upheaval, but what makes larges masses of people move as one?

In Queensland, we stand this week between Australia Day, 26th January and our State Election, 31st January. Much of the discussion and polemic in the media concerns,  “what it is to be an Australian”, our heritage, our ethos. How does our state collectively make a decision about what political party to choose? How do we move as one when it comes to decisions to go to war? How can a crowd of spectators at a match simultaneously break into laughter or cheer at once, except when something strikes a chord in their heart, a memory, a shared value?

AustraliaAustralianAustralians

How else do we achieve national untiy at all except through story telling, repeated, iterative, gradual story telling. From school onwards, we are told the story of our nation, our struggles, our journey, our coming of age, our national icons, our spirit. Slowly we believe, we are more than just residents of an address but citizens of a national village, who share a common bond, who belong together more than we belong apart.

While much of this narrative can be murkied propoganda, we need these stories to function as unified whole. Let us examine what stories we are telling ourselves! What is shaping our knowledge of right and wrong? What are we telling our children about the future?