This week is NAIDOC Week, a week to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. NAIDOC is celebrated not only in Indigenous communities, but by Australians from all walks of life.
The theme for NAIDOC Week 2019 is Voice. Treaty. Truth. and points to the longing for First Nations people to have their voice heard in Australian society, for a treaty to acknowledge their place in the history and future of our nation, and for truth to be told in the story of colonisation and ongoing injustice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The Uluru Statement from the Heart, written in 2017, is a guiding resource in this quest.
I have just finished reading Stan Grant’s recent book called ‘Australia Day’ which is a very personal story of the dislocation Grant feels; that as a person with Aboriginal ancestry and Irish and European heritage, he feels caught in between two worlds. That he and many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people feel that their home has been turned upside down, into something else, something less familiar and less settled, and their life is like being at the same time in place and yet out of place. Grant alludes, at one point in his book, to the painting in the Sistine Chapel where Michelangelo laboured for years to produce a picture of creation with Adam stretching out his hand to grasp the hand of God. Or maybe it is the other way around? But they extend and do not touch. And, says Grant, the picture is that we are the between part of the two hands: all we want to be, all we fail to be, all our ambiguity. And yet the between can be also the very spark of life: in the striving to be and the reaching for each other, and for a connection.
For me NAIDOC week is an opportunity to do just that: to reach out and make connection. We know there is a space between Indigenous and non-Indigenous, we know the space is filled with deep pain and resentment, a space without certainty, without rest, a space with longing and love and hate and wounded memories, but the space can also be about hope and the possibilities of togetherness. I can’t imagine what it is be an Indigenous person, to really know what it is like to carry the history of pain and dispossession and trauma in my bones, to feel like a stranger in a ‘white’ world, but I cannot escape the deep feeling that I share in the responsibility to build a future of hope and somehow bring the connection of the hands. As Grant concludes in his Declaration of Country: From the first footsteps to the most recent arrival, this land is our home. Here, together, we form a new people bound not by the chains of history but committed to a future forged together.
You can discover how to connect with NAIDOC Week at www.naidoc.org.au or www.commongrace.org.au