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National Reconciliation Week: More Than A Word

This year’s National Reconciliation Week theme, “More than a word. Reconciliation takes action” challenges us to take more courageous action that will deliver real impact. This is a challenge individuals and businesses should enthusiastically embrace.

There is a lot to do

Australia’s First Nations People have lived on, cared for and formed a deep connection to the lands that make up Australia for at least 50,000 years.

233 years ago, the dispossession of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from their lands began. In the years following, thousands of First Nations people were massacred, thousands more were subjected to slavery and forced labour, families were split up, and culture and language were suppressed.

54 years ago, First Nations people were recognised as citizens of the country built on their land, marking a significant step towards reconciling our terrible past.

30 years ago, the formal Reconciliation movement was established with the formation of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, the predecessor to Reconciliation Australia.

Since that time, there have been many powerful words spoken by non-Indigenous Australians in the name of Reconciliation, the Redfern Address, the commitment to Closing the Gap and the Apology to the Stolen Generations come to mind. But the reality is our actions and progress in practical Reconciliation have fallen behind the lofty ambitions of our words.

Indigenous Australians continue to face systemic disadvantage compared to non-Indigenous Australians including:

  • An infant mortality four times higher
  • Life expectancy around ten years shorter
  • Lower access to education
  • Lower incomes
  • Higher incarceration rates

Ultimately our proudly multicultural nation has failed to include our oldest culture in our national success.

Actions then words

None of us individually can address more than 200 years of dispossession and disadvantage, but all of us can take actions large or small that can make a difference.

At a personal level this might be learning more about Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander culture, learning some of the words of your local Indigenous language or exploring other opportunities to celebrate the strength of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and the contribution they make to our national identity.

In our corporate lives this can mean finding a way to use more Indigenous suppliers, hire another Indigenous person, partner with an Indigenous business or any of a thousand other actions that can make a practical difference.

Actions do speak louder than words, but that doesn’t mean that words are not important. For many, a desire to act fails from not knowing where to start, or from a fear of ‘getting it wrong’.

The answers lie in the words of Indigenous people, and the most important place to start is by listening to Indigenous voices. Whether that is the collective voice of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, the holders of cultural knowledge where you operate, or the voices of your Indigenous team members, the most effective action will come when we listen and respond.

If we listen, respond with action, and make a difference – that’s a conversation that matters, and a story we can proudly tell together.

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The stakeholder engagement team is led by Simon Corrigan, a specialist in Aboriginal engagement and Indigenous Affairs. He has worked with traditional owners throughout WA and interstate. He is also experienced in navigating engagement surrounding native title and cultural heritage issues.