Monday, September 25, 2023

Elders recognised at NAIDOC opening

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This year’s NAIDOC theme was one that was tremendously special to all – recognising the important role that Elders played and continued to play in Aboriginal lives, both individually and as a community and more broadly as First Nations people.

Speaker Juanita Hickson delivered the inspiring message at the Narrungdera NAIDOC Week official opening ceremony held on Saturday at the Narrandera Sportsground.

To embrace this year’s NAIDOC theme “For Our Elders” Ms Hickson gave her speech surrounded by her grannies, mob and community.

The event was held on the same day as the Narrandera Lizards Rugby League team played in the Proten Cup.

Wiradjuri Elder Uncle Mick Lyons welcomed everyone to country and played the didgeridoo, followed by a smoking ceremony.

Dinawans Connections performed some cultural dances with some young Narrandera locals.

‘For our Elders’ encouraged people to look to their Elders not only for inspiration, but for guidance in the issues that society faced today.

“We are encouraged to draw strength from their knowledge and experience, in everything from land management, cultural knowledge to justice and human rights,” Ms Hickson said.

“Across multiple sectors like health, education, the arts, politics and everything in between, they have set the many courses that we follow.

“What a wonderful platform this theme provides us to explore the many achievements of our Elders and to learn more about the struggles they have gone through throughout their lives that allow us as the younger generations to have a sense of belonging, connecting strongly to our culture and to be able to live the lives we are living today.”

In Paul Callaghan’s book ‘The Dreaming Path’ he describes the vital role Elders play in First Nations society and quotes that:

‘In traditional times, Elders were of critical importance in ensuring the well-being of the community… Among their responsibilities were sharing story, song and dance as well as teaching, leadership, governance, resolving conflict, and overseeing spiritual practice and ceremony’.

Ms Hickson said these roles continued today and there was so much that could be learnt from Elders ‘when we facilitate space to listen to what they have to say’.

“NAIDOC theme this year is also about respect. When we do our Acknowledgment to Country in our services, we speak the words around ‘paying our respects to Elders past, present and emerging’. This is a reminder to not only speak these words out of habit, but to really think about what they mean and look like in practice.

“Let me share with you just a few ways of what I believe it looks like being put in practice:

  1. It’s spending quality time with them. Family connection and our kinship system is everything to our people and especially our Elders.
  2. It’s also discussing family history – there is a strong and appreciated strength in our history and it being passed down from generation to generation. This kind of sacred oral history can achieve a togetherness and connectiveness that few other things in life are capable of.
  3. It’s extremely important we listen to what they have to say and take their advice as gospel as our Elders are the wisest individuals we have, yet most of us don’t take advantage of that fact. We must also always acknowledge that the stories our Elders pass down to us have also been passed down to them from our ancestors and in saying that we should always remember that one day our precious Elders will no longer be here, and to lose our elders is like losing a library full of important Cultural knowledge. So truly listen and take in everything they have to say and want to share.”

Ms Hickson said each year NAIDOC was celebrated by people from all walks of life, Indigenous and non-Indigenous.

The week provides an opportunity to participate in a range of culturally rich activities and to support and amplify the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

She finished by saying to all younger generations present at the ceremony to take look around them, look at the prized possessions they were gathered with “Walk up to them, hug them tight, tell them how special they are to each and every one of us and make sure that when you leave here today remember that if it wasn’t for these beautiful people/our Elders, we wouldn’t be the individuals we are today.” 

Narrandera Argus, 6 July 2023

This article appeared in the Narrandera Argus, 6 July 2023.


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