National Reconciliation Week 2021: no more empty words
This week is National Reconciliation Week, which runs annually from 27 May to 3 June, and invites people to learn about the shared histories, cultures, achievements, and future goals of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. The theme in 2021 is “More than a word. Reconciliation takes action”, which urges the reconciliation movement towards more impactful action.
Indeed, there’s not been a time in recent history where impactful action is more necessary. At least 475 Indigenous people have died in police custody since the 1991 royal commission, with 22 of those occurring between 2019-2020, and another 5 already in 2021. Furthermore, there are ongoing calls to raise the age of criminal responsibility, with an average 835 per 100,000 Indigenous children aged 10 to 14 on youth justice supervision orders compared to the 28 per 100,000 non-Indigenous children. Meanwhile, the Uluru Statement From The Heart, which was first delivered in 2017, remains unrecognised.
I don’t mean to be defeatist, but I also don’t think we can truly understand the impetus for reconciliation without understanding what needs to be reconciled. For too long, as far back as Paul Keating’s renowned Redfern Speech in 1992 and Kevin Rudd’s apology in 2008, our notion of reconciliation has largely centred around verbal claims to action. That’s not to diminish the power of words: Keating’s recognition of White Australia’s failures and Rudd’s direct and genuine apology were necessary; they brought into the forefront something which had always, embarrassingly, lived beneath the surface, had been “implied” without ever being actualised.
Still, the years roll on, and it seems that we’ve mistaken a continuation (or repetition) of what Keating and Rudd started as a hard day’s work well done. Now, It's abundantly clear that empty words and vague promises are of no use. They never have been. Instead, it’s the responsibility of non-indigenous Australians (myself included) to listen, to act, to defer to Indigenous voices without burdening Indigenous peoples with the work we should already have done ourselves. And amidst that, it’s our responsibility to lift up Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and celebrate a culture which has prevailed from antiquity into modernity, against the innumerous hardships which lay at our hands.
Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe
Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia by Anita Heiss
Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman
Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World by Tyson Yunkaporta