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Protesters holding signs reading 'white australia has a black history'.
Photograph: Matt Hrkac

How you can participate in National Reconciliation Week

We spoke to the co-chairs of ANTaR about how Australians can contribute to achieving reconciliation now and year-round

Adena Maier
Written by
Adena Maier
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National Reconciliation Week takes place from May 27 to June 3, and it's observed across the country annually as a time to celebrate, reflect and work towards reconciliation in Australia. Established in 1993 as the Week of Prayer for Reconciliation before becoming NRW in 1993, the start and end dates also hold great significance and commemorate important milestones in the journey towards reconciliation. On May 27, 1967, Australians voted to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as part of the population and on the national census, and on June 3, 1992, Eddie Koiko Mabo won a case in the High Court that recognised pre-colonial land ownership by Indigenous Australians. 

Dr Peter Lewis is the national president of Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR), and Uncle Richard Frankland is ANTaR's Victorian co-chair, a Gunditjmara man and a celebrated playwright, scriptwriter and musician. Both Dr Lewis and Uncle Richard have decades of experience working in the Indigenous social justice and advocacy space, and we spoke to both of them about what phase of reconciliation Australia is in, how to be an accomplice rather than an ally and the systemic changes they hope to see in the near future.

"One of the most beautiful things that I've observed is many non-First Nation peoples stepping across the cultural abyss with a hunger to know," says Uncle Richard. "And they want to know not just about First Nation people but also why weren't they told – why isn't First Nation knowledge part of the infrastructure of our nation?" 

Learning about shared histories, cultures and achievements is a large part of the spirit of NRW, and many concepts that were once considered 'radical' have now become commonplace – but this poses a new issue. "Years ago, the idea of a welcome to country was a radical idea, whereas now the danger is that it's become too accepted and [people] don't see what it actually means," says Dr Lewis. "There's been a big shift, but the challenge now is to actually make that shift real. It's in people's heads, but it really needs to get to the stage where it's actually creating the change that's needed." 

We all have a role to play in reconciliation, and part of that role involves making the leap from being an ally to being an accomplice. What does that mean exactly? According to Dr Lewis, it's the difference between "going to events, which is still totally important, to knocking on the door of your local member and saying, 'Why aren't you supporting treaty?' Or if they are, asking them 'How can we move to the next stage and create the change that's needed?" 

To Uncle Richard, the key difference between an accomplice and an ally comes down to what you're prepared to let go of. "How much humility are you prepared to have, and how much are you prepared to analyse the past and how that's fostered who you are now?" There's still a ways to go, but some of the changes that he hopes to see include including First Nations people in gross domestic finances and the creation of a First Nation Council of Elders across the Pacific. "We need to consider radical actions and agitate and stir until they work," says Uncle Richard.

There's a lot of work to be done, but to help you get started on your journey towards contributing to reconciliation, ANTaR helped us compile a list of NRW events to participate in below. Have a scroll, engage with a local event and commit to participating in reconciliation now and every day. 

National Reconciliation Week 2022 Events

In 2004, former footballer Michael Long embarked on a walk from Melbourne to Parliament House in Canberra with the aim of obtaining a meeting with then-prime minister John Howard. Intense media scrutiny followed, and when Long reached the halfway point, Howard finally granted the meeting. Now, 18 years later, Long's walk is commemorated annually with a day of live music by leading Indigenous artists, free sport and art activations, a huge barbecue and the traditional Walk to the G. 

Dreamtime at the G is an annual AFL match between Essendon and Richmond football clubs. The name pays homage to the concept of Dreamtime, which refers to Aboriginal beliefs about the world and its creation, and the match always takes place at the MCG. Due to the global pandemic, this year's match will be the first Dreamtime class between the two teams since 2019. Over the last decade, more than 750,000 people have attended this event and more than 10 million people have caught it on TV. If you attend and purchase any Dreamtime merchandise, all proceeds go towards supporting Indigenous youth through the Richmond Football Club's Korin Gamadji Institute. 

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For the last six years, this festival has offered a mix of mostly free and low-cost sessions for Indigenous films, documentaries and videos and educational activities. This year, the festival will commence at 4.30pm on National Sorry Day (May 26) at the Bendigo Library, beginning with a welcome to country and smoking ceremony. You can find a full program of all of the films and activities here, but highlights include Djäkamirr, In My Blood It Runs, Emu Runner and Wash My Soul in the River's Flow

May 27 marks a significant date in Australia's history, because on that day in 1967, Australians voted to remove clauses in the constitution that discriminated against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. To commemorate this day, Melbourne Town Hall hosts a guest orator each year for the NRW Oration, and the guest orator this year is First Nations rapper, record label owner, comedy writer, actor and author Adam Briggs. The event will be livestreamed, and you can tune in here.

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Head to Tarneit for the launch of 'Voice of the Land, Voice of the People, Voice of our Heart, Voice of our Mother – Mother Tongue', a new public artwork led by Gunditjmara artist Dr Vicki Couzens. The work involved a collaboration with local multicultural artists from the Bunurong, African Diaspora, Bangla, Chin, Karen, Karenni, Maori, Indian and Sikh communities, and visual elements of each culture have been incorporated into the final artwork. 

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On May 30, head to the Library at the Dock for a free screening of The Ripple Effect. This impactful documentary explores the mental health impacts of racism through the lens of sport, and it's centred around the story of St Kilda footballer Nicky Winmar. In 1993, Winmar was verbally abused with racially motivated remarks made by the Collingwood cheer squad, and he took a stand at the end of the game by lifting his shirt and pointing to his skin. The photograph became emblematic, and in 2019, a statue depicting Winmar at that moment was erected in front of Optus Stadium.

 

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From May 31 to June 2, head to Melbourne Quarter from noon to enjoy a couple of hours of live acoustic music by local First Nations artists. Since it's taking place from Tuesday to Thursday, it's perfect for enjoying soulful sounds and toe-tapping tunes by young talent during your lunch break. 

This year, Kyneton Town Hall is hosting special guest speakers Brent Ryan, the assistant director of education at Yoorrook Justice Commission, and Nicole Findlay, the CEO of Reconciliation Victoria. After a welcome to country ceremony, both speakers will address the recent work by their organisations in working towards reconciliation in our community. A Q&A session will follow where attendees can continue the conversation with light refreshments. This event is free, but bookings are essential and can be made through the website.

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This collaborative event is hosted by the Dilun Duwa Centre for Indigenous Business Leadership, the Faculty of Science and the Indigenous Knowledge Institute at the University of Melbourne. A group of panellists will speak to this year's NRW theme ('Be Brave, Make Change'), examine the complexities of reconciliation and how impactful change can be made through partnerships. Light refreshments will be served from 5.30pm, followed by the panel discussion at 6.15pm and a Q&A session afterwards. You can RSVP through the University of Melbourne website.

On June 2, Indigenous-run art gallery Blak Dot Gallery is hosting Walk the River, an exhibition of stories, poems and scar tree photographers by respected Gunditjmara Elder, Uncle Jim Berg. Enjoy a special evening of First Nations music, food and performance by the Djirri Djirri Dancers while exploring the immersive exhibition. The event is free, and you can register to attend here

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In Latin, terra nullius means 'land belonging to no one' and was a land law principle used by Europeans to steal land occupied by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. In 1992, Mer Island man Eddie Koiki Mabo led a referendum to fight this concept, and his efforts were successful; in 1992, terra nullius was nullified, and in 1993, the Australian Parliament passed the Native Title Act recognising Indigenous rights to the land. To commemorate Mabo's efforts, June 3 is marked annually as Mabo Day - and this year is its 30th anniversary. To celebrate, head to Fed Square for a special free concert with Jessie Lloyd, Songwomen from the Torres Strait and a six-person band. 

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