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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2017 Week 10 Hansard (Wednesday, 13 September 2017) . . Page.. 3606 ..

Sadly, throughout our national history we have not always recognised the importance of mother languages to Indigenous peoples. From the earliest days of European contact there was often an assumption that Indigenous Australian languages were of less value than English, and this view was reinforced through government policy, education and employment practices. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were discouraged from speaking their languages and made to feel ashamed of using them in public.

As the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, or AIATSIS, has articulated, the impact of this was that the link between generations of speakers was broken so that many children had little or no knowledge of their traditional languages. Their parents were partial speakers and their grandparents were the remaining few speakers of a language that, as the elders, they alone could pass down to the next generation.

Thankfully, today that is starting to change, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across Australia speaking about the need to protect, preserve and strengthen traditional languages. Through the second national Indigenous languages survey, conducted in 2014, Indigenous people said that they believe traditional languages should be taught in schools and that the use of traditional languages in schools helps Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to succeed. Respondents to the survey held an almost unanimous view that connecting with and learning about language has a powerfully beneficial effect on people’s wellbeing.

Here in the ACT, as has been noted earlier, there is a fantastic project underway with the Ngaiyuriija Ngunnawal Language Group and AIATSIS working together collaboratively on a research project to revitalise the Ngunnawal language. I understand the aim is to revive a fully functional language that can also be part of the local school curriculum, with AIATSIS linguists and group members having been painstakingly compiling a wordlist since July 2014. This is a really exciting and important project for Ngunnawal people and all people across the ACT. We know that bilingualism and multilingualism are important ways to strengthen intercultural understanding in our community. I look forward to seeing this resource develop and I support its use to improve knowledge and understanding of Ngunnawal culture across our ACT community.

Of course, multilingualism and the recognition of mother language are equally important for people from migrant communities. As I mentioned earlier, we know that Canberra is an extremely diverse place, with many people from many different multicultural backgrounds. In particular, I am proud that the ACT is the only state or territory jurisdiction in Australia to be declared a refugee welcome zone. Our support for protecting and promoting mother languages is an important part of what we can do to make the ACT a safe and welcoming place for asylum seekers and refugees, as well as other migrants.

We are also lucky to have over 50 community language schools operating across Canberra. These schools help people to connect with their own or other cultural backgrounds, promote understanding and mutual respect among ethnic communities

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