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24 May 2022
A personal response to National Reconciliation Week.
Words Samantha Shortis
National Reconciliation Week (27 May-3 June) is not just a week on the calendar to host morning teas or events. To truly embrace this week, there must be more than being aware of the week itself and the theme – Be Brave. Make Change.
If we are to embrace this year’s theme, we must be willing to acknowledge, learn and listen to stories of the history of this country and its treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, so that together we can feel confident, informed and motivated to be brave and make change.
We must be open to experience truth-telling, listen to the voices of Elders, take it upon ourselves to learn more about the importance of this week, and then reflect on what it means to ‘Be Brave. Make Change’.
Reconciliation is an ongoing battle that, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, is not limited to one week a year. It is a continuous journey in our fight for change, a battle that has been handed down for many, many generations.
The area of reconciliation that resonates with me the most is ‘equality and equity’. When learning about history across Australia, the personal stories that have been shared from generation to generation and the intergenerational impact that these have on all our people, have impacted my own life and identity.
When I reflect on stories shared of the inequality my great-grandparents faced growing up, and as adults striving for change all those years ago, these still impact my being.
This brings me to a significant date that falls within National Reconciliation Week – 27 May. This date marks the anniversary of the day in 1967 when Australians voted overwhelmingly to amend the Constitution to allow the Commonwealth to make laws for Aboriginal people and include them in the census.
Whilst I acknowledge every Elder who fought so hard for this momentous event, and the positive change this had for our people, I can’t help but reflect on the stories of my great-grandparents and uncles. How did they feel having to beg for basic human rights? How did my grandmother feel being born into a life where she didn’t have the same rights as the children she played with at school, and as she grew into a young woman? That impacted her entire lifespan.
From protesting in the street and holding up signs asking to be counted, to the letter that my great-grandfather wrote to a major Victorian newspaper at the time begging for the people to consider giving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples the same rights as everyone else, I ask everyone to think of those they love the most and ask yourself, “If this was my family, how would I feel?”
How would you feel if you thought that your loved ones were not considered citizens with equal rights?
While we still have a long way to go in terms of reconciliation, closing the gap, and addressing racism in society, I feel that any step is a good step towards reaching these goals. When I can have one person listen, understand, and maybe go on to teach others – this is how together we can move towards reconciliation
Today I am filled with hope and faith. I am filled with the strength, guidance and wisdom of my ancestors, family and community. I have the support of the wider non-Indigenous community wanting to move forward and create change in the name of reconciliation.
For so long, our ancestors and Elders have been BRAVE, and this has resulted in CHANGE.
Let’s work together – how can you be brave and make change?
Samantha Shortis is the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Coordinator in Victoria for The Salvation Army Australia.