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Student Blog: National Reconciliation Week 2019

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Kristin (Year 11) reflects on why National Reconciliation Week (NRW) is important and how we can make a difference.

What does the word ‘reconciliation’ actually mean? Put simply, it’s ‘the restoration of friendly relations’. And NRW is an opportunity for us as Australians to learn more about our shared histories, cultures and achievements. Its focus is on strengthening relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-indigenous Australians, for the benefit of everyone.

The theme of NRW this year is ‘Grounded in Truth: Walk Together with Courage’. To me, this theme suggests that truth is a basis for friendship. As first Australians and other Australians, we have a shared past grounded in colonialism, which saw Indigenous Australians dispossessed of their land and enduring violence, overt racism and the Stolen Generation. So, we have an opportunity to acknowledge and face the truth of the past. It is about putting an end to what respected Australian anthropologist Bill Stanner once called, ‘The Great Australian Silence’.

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According to Reconciliation Australia CEO, Karen Mundine, “Reconciliation is ultimately about relationships and like all effective relationships the one between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians must be grounded in truth. There can be no trust without an honest, open conversation about our history.”

There are five key areas of reconciliation: historical acceptance, race relations, equality and equity, institutional integrity, and unity. So, what can we do? Well, we can ‘walk the talk’.

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We can engage in potentially challenging, but honest conversations. In doing so, we can learn more about Indigenous culture – and we can unlearn and relearn what we know. Yes, we learn about The Dreamtime, as well as the subjugation of, and racism towards, Indigenous Australians, but it is up to us to delve deeper. This is not about guilt or shame for non-Indigenous Australians, rather it can serve as an end-point to wrongdoing, which will allow us to form new relationships and better understanding.

We can watch movies such as The Sapphires, Bran Nue Dae or Ten Canoes.
The film Sweet Country just received the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (Aacta) award for best film. Set in the Northern Territory's MacDonnell Ranges, it centres on an Aboriginal station hand who goes on the run with his wife after killing a white settler in self-defence in the 1920s. It’s not pretty, but it’s an honest look, based on real accounts and stories passed down through generations. In addition, SBS has a Reconciliation Film Club, with a great list of films to deepen our understanding and spark honest conversations.

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We can also visit sites of cultural significance, research our local area, promote NRW on social media, watch one of Stan Grant’s inspirational talks or go to an art gallery to and see Indigenous art.

As part of the Year 9 Service Learning program at Wenona, some students have been lucky enough to visit the East Kimberley region, where a large portion of the population are Indigenous Australians. Two years ago, I visited the region along with 14 other students, Mr Whitehouse and Ms Webb, and it’s had a lasting impression on me. Recently, I discussed the impact of this trip with my fellow students. We were fully immersed in the Indigenous culture and had the opportunity to meet locals from Kununurra, where we visited a number of community groups, like Save the Children and a local women’s shelter. I think this experience in particular has really stuck with us. We have fond memories of playing with the local children, hosting a movie night and building gardens together. I came away with new insights and a new level of understanding. The women working at Save the Children are focused on helping to break the poverty cycle for young members of the community. Something as simple as an evening meal is not always a reality for some of these children. Through no fault of their own, some families have struggled due to years of disadvantage and inequality. It was heartening to see the environment cultivated by Save the Children. It was a safe place for children to play and have a meal.

We met an older girl, who’d driven 800km across Australia to take part in a creative competition with the hope of inspiring the children she worked with. Even taking part in spear throwing and sharing authentic experiences brought us together. The thing that stood out for me, was that the customs and traditions are something that we can all share and embrace. It was very obvious in Kununurra, how stark the inequality is in our very own country.

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As a School, we have come together during NRW to support the people of Kununurra, by hosting a barbeque, with all proceeds going towards community programs there.

During NRW, it’s important that we all take time to reflect on our role as Australians. A good place to start is understanding the real history. Ongoing reconciliation is critical. According to Indigenous health expert, Glenn Pearson, it is “an essential part of the Australian story because we see ourselves as part of it – connected to it, proud of it and centred by it.”

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Thank you.

National Reconciliation Week 2019
Kristin (Year 11)