Page 2515 - Week 07 - Thursday, 3 August 2017
NAIDOC Week this year was a celebration of Indigenous culture and history and the achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The primary focus was on their languages, for languages matter. They matter as the primary way to safeguard and preserve cultural identity, linking people to their land and water, and in the transmission of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, spirituality and rites through story and song.
I learned more about the importance of Indigenous language preservation in my recent visit to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. The institute is situated near the National Museum of Australia and houses an amazing collection of artefacts, including film, photographs and printed material. A key function of the institute is to preserve Indigenous language, which includes the collection and publication of Indigenous dictionaries.
During my visit I learned from Dr Michael Walsh, senior research fellow with the institute’s centre for languages. Michael shared with me an in-depth look at how the languages were revitalised using both past and current sources. He gave an example of the process for recording each word. It is extremely complicated and can include as many as 13 to 15 sources, many dating back to the earliest surveyor records.
I was interested to learn that the institute was a key contributor to the development of the acknowledgement of country in the Ngunnawal language used by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in recent times. While this may seem easy, Michael shared that finding the right words—for example, for the word “acknowledge”—is not easy, as often these words do not have equivalent words in the Indigenous language.
This also opens up the importance of revitalising languages for local Canberran Aboriginals. However, it goes well beyond the welcome to country. Language links them to their land and lore and allows them to transmit their history, spirituality and rites. Having a written record of the languages of the local Indigenous people would also provide opportunities for books to be printed in that language and for their traditional stories to be published.
Question resolved in the affirmative.