Speech – Daily acknowledgment in Ngunnawal language

Australian Greens

Madam Speaker it is with great pleasure that I rise today to speak to this item of Assembly business.

Firstly, I’d like to acknowledge the Elders present here in the Chamber and I say to you Yumalundi – welcome in Ngunnawal language. As a member of this Legislative Assembly, I pay my deepest respects to you and to the Elders who have come before you. I thank you for your ongoing contributions to our community and your nurturing of emerging elders. I thank you for the ongoing education that you provide regarding your language and your culture. I look forward to learning more over the coming years as more knowledge is recovered and shared.

The other reason I have great pleasure in speaking about this item today Madam Speaker, is that I know that there is tri partisan support and agreement to introduce a Ngunnawal language Acknowledgement of Country on sitting days across the Legislative Assembly. It is the first time in the history of this Assembly that a motion is co-sponsored by all three parties. This signifies that in spite of our political differences, on the issue of recognition of our local Aboriginal people, the Ngunnawal people, we are united, as we should be.

This motion recognises that each party in the Legislative Assembly has put time and effort into considering issues for local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our local community and while we may not always agree on the best way forward, there is joint commitment to improve the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the territory and focus on efforts that reduce racism and inequality.

The ACT Greens have developed a “reflect” Reconciliation Action Plan ( a RAP)” which was launched in May this year and in which we committed to tabling this motion in the Assembly. The development of the RAP has involved our entire joint staff team, members of which have proactively ensured that our commitments are followed through.

Whilst we recognise the Ngunnawal people as the local traditional custodians, I also note that Ngunnawal country is surrounded by neighbouring tribes including Wiradjuri to the west, Walgalu to the south, Yuin to the east coast, Ngarigo to the south east, Gundungdurra to north east and Ngambri who travelled to Ngunnawal country for initiations, marriage arrangements, trade, seasonal foods and the sharing of lore and ceremony with the Ngunnawal people [1], as they have done for thousands of years.

This collaboration and exchange continues in some form through to today, and so, I also acknowledge the contributions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from other clan groups who add value to our community and who contribute to a broader understanding of Aboriginal culture and traditions and connection to land and language in this region.

I’d would like to mention specifically the United Ngunnawal Elders Council, members of whom we have consulted in developing this motion and whose connection to this region has existed for tens of thousands of years. I’d also like to acknowledge the contributions of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body Chair, from whom we also sought advice. I would also like to acknowledge the specific ongoing contributions of the caring for country mobs, the Registered Aboriginal Organisations, who have an important role in providing advice in the development of conservation management plans for Ngunnawal heritage and places with archaeological significance. It is their knowledge from which we draw our learnings and from which we grow in understanding.

Madam Speaker, as noted in the motion, this year is the International year of Indigenous Languages. It is time to raise awareness of the consequence of the endangerment of Indigenous languages and this motion is but one small way that we can draw a link between language, development, peace and reconciliation. This is one small way we can help to keep language alive and relevant. This is one small way in which we recognise that connections to language are central to identity and culture.

It acknowledges too that in our own region the Ngunnawal people were, just as those from other clan groups were, denied the right to speak their own language. We have heard accounts from times now gone by, where Aboriginal people, some still alive today, were held forcibly on the missions in our region and not allowed to speak in language. It was forbidden and they were punished for doing so. This meant that the Elders who were fluent in the language stopped speaking it. It meant, almost catastrophically, that their children did not learn the language. This is a result of European occupation, dispossession of lands and forced denial of their existing language and culture. The damage done was significant, life altering and remains today.

We are fortunate that in these times, there is a shift, and across the country, First nations languages are beginning to receive the focus and respect they need. It will however continue to be a struggle as many words have been lost. Some may never be recovered and that is a source of shame. That is what history has done and that is what we must, as much as we can, seek to rectify.

Not that we rely on Wikipedia of course, but it is interesting to note that Wikipedia describes Ngunnawal language as extinct. That is contested by many, including those here present who are working on language recovery, rescue and revitalisation. It is through their efforts that we are learning more. Linguists, anthropologists and genealogists are all working to restore, recover and revitalise traditional languages, including the Ngunnawal language which is specific to this region.

It is my hope that in years to come, we will know these words by heart – we will be using specific Ngunnawal words in our everyday interactions with each other. It is starting already, with simple Yuma for hello and Yarra for goodbye, which are used at the beginning and the end of each local news bulletin on ABC TV. This repeated exposure to the language assists in its retention and reminds us on a daily basis that English is not the native tongue of the original inhabitants of this area or of this nation. Furthermore, it sends a clear message to local Ngunnawal people that we are listening, that we value your language and that we acknowledge how important language is to enhance connection with culture. And that is what this motion is doing today.

While in some ways, it is a small gesture, in many ways, it is an action that speaks louder than words. This is an action that each of us can embrace and by doing so, we pay our respects, we acknowledge the ongoing connection of the Ngunnawal people to this land, this special meeting place where clans have met for thousands of years.

Madam Speaker, as members of the Legislative Assembly, we can take a leadership role in the community by using Ngunnawal language, demonstrating actions of reconciliation and recognition on the public record, helping to bring deeper understanding to a wider cross section of our community.

This motion calls on the Assembly to consult with members of the United Ngunnawal Elders Council and other recognised Ngunnawal Elders in order to determine and agree on the words to be used. In this way, we are enabling self determination and choice which are integral to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Agreement and which should be integral with how we all engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this region.

Furthermore, it calls for cultural awareness training to be made available for members of the Assembly, including in the correct pronunciation of the Ngunnawal words. I am aware that this may be a time consuming and complex process, but this work must underpin the end result.

As noted in the motion there is interest from the community in establishing a Ngunnawal language centre and we must ensure that the community members who are highlighting the need for such a centre are included in the consultation about which words will be used. The establishment of a Ngunnawal language centre in and of itself will support the community to fill in the gaps in Ngunnawal language, noting that at this time, it does not have everyday application.

Madam Speaker, it is my hope that in the future, Ngunnawal language will be taught in local schools. First Languages across the nation are currently endangered and it would be a positive step if we were able to teach all children at least a few words. Many of us know how to say hello in foreign languages, such as French, German, Spanish, Indonesian, Japanese or Chinese, but very few know how to say hello in a First nation language. How wonderful would it be if simple Aboriginal words became part of our everyday vernacular in the years to come.

Madam Speaker, that is my hope, and this motion is but one small step in that direction.

Finally, the motion calls on the Assembly to amend the Standing Orders accordingly and to ensure that an accurate reflection of the words used is recorded in daily minutes and Hansard. Currently, the Hansard and daily minutes only record that an acknowledgement of traditional custodians was made, and do not reflect the actual words spoken in the Chamber.

Madam Speaker, I am aware that this consultation process may take some time, but I do hope that it commences before the end of this year, to enable agreement of the words to be used and enactment of the intent of this motion in 2020, before the next election.

I note that there is already an agreement for the first sitting day of the tenth Assembly to commence with a Welcome to Country to be given by local traditional custodians and this motion ensures that Ngunnawal language will be spoken on every sitting day, conceivably preceding this event, setting the scene for that day, but definitely continuing thereafter in that spirit. This goes some way to preserving the world’s longest continuous living culture and affords the Ngunnawal the respect they deserve as traditional custodians of this land on which we live, work and play.

Madam Speaker this motion demonstrates our yindyamurra, our respect for the Ngunnawal people of this region and I commend this motion to the Assembly.

[1] ( Taken from Ngunnawal Plant Use – a traditional aboriginal plant guide for the ACT – supported by Australian Government, ACT government and Greening Australia) 2014

/Public Release. This material from the originating organization/author(s) may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s).View in full here.