Reconciliation Week draws us closer

Aboriginal teachers and department staff aren’t letting COVID-19 get in the way of continuing the vital work of achieving national reconciliation.

Image: Roslyn McGregor: “Reconciliation is not marked by one moment in time.”

On 28 May 2000, an estimated 250,000 people clasped hands and streamed across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in a special march of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians during Australia’s National Reconciliation Week.

Twenty years later, thanks to the COVID-19 virus, National Reconciliation Week is being held digitally and at a distance.

But social distancing had provided the perfect opportunity for all Australians to think deeply about the nation’s true history, said Kamilaroi Elder and senior leader for community engagement at Walgett Community College, Roslyn McGregor.

“Reconciliation is not marked by one moment in time. It is ongoing, now and into the future,” Ms McGregor said.

This year, the Walgett high school was marking National Reconciliation Week by emphasising the importance of caring for country, she said.

“We will be asking students and communities what caring for country means to them. We will put a series of posters all around town, with words, quotes and images that tell the story of caring for Kamilaroi country.”

This year’s National Reconciliation Week theme – ‘In this together’ – was a powerful one as communities faced the extraordinary challenges of COVID-19 “with a sense of solidarity and shared purpose,” NSW Department of Education Secretary Mark Scott said.

Three films are available of Aboriginal staff talking about what Reconciliation Week means to them, part of a suite of resources compiled by the department for National Sorry Day today, and National Reconciliation Week, which runs from 27 May to 3 June, every year.

The dates commemorate two significant milestones in the reconciliation journey – the successful 1967 referendum in which Australians voted overwhelmingly to amend the Constitution to allow the Commonwealth to make laws for Aboriginal people and include them in the Census, and; the High Court Mabo decision, which recognised that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have rights to the land.

For Tammy Anderson, a proud Biripi woman and principal at Briar Road Public School in south-western Sydney, where about 40 per cent of the students are Aboriginal, Reconciliation Week is one of her happiest times across the school year.

Ms Anderson said it provided all Australians with an opportunity to see, value and acknowledge the place that Aboriginal people have in Australia.

“In 2020, Reconciliation Week will look a little bit different. And for us, we're really looking forward to doing a lot of virtual learning and sharing of knowledge,” Ms Anderson said.

“Our students are busy getting ready for assemblies, where we can share our knowledge and history with all of our wider community and we look forward to having a brilliant Reconciliation Week.”

Ngunnawal/Yuin man, Darren Bell, who leads the Aboriginal employment team for the NSW Department of Education, said the way the department had included reconciliation in policy and in different ways of teaching, had shown “we can work in two worlds and work in these worlds together”.

For Mr Bell, Reconciliation Week is about people coming together to remember the past and about ensuring bad government policy, such as removing Indigenous children from their families, never happens again.

“Because when you say ‘sorry’ you don’t do it again,” Mr Bell said.

The meaning of reconciliation

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