Introduction in Bunuba

Thank you. Jalangurru lanygu balangarri - good afternoon everyone. Yaningi warangira ngindaji yuwa muwayi ingirranggu, Gadigal yani U. Balangarri wadjirragali jarra ningi – gamali ngindaji yau muwayi nyirrami ngarri thangani. Yaningi miya ngindaji Muwayi ingga winyira ngirranggu thangani.  Yathawarra, wilalawarra jalangurru ngarri guda.

I speak to you in my first language Bunuba which is from the country or lands I come from, in the central Kimberley, a region in far north Western Australia. It’s a long way from here! But it's great to have my family and Kimberley mob here in Sydney.

I pay my respects to the traditional owners, the Gadigal people of the Eora nation. Thank you for welcoming us all here. I acknowledge your elder’s past, present and emerging who carry and protect the knowledge of your ancestors. And I acknowledge all of our sisters and brothers here today and your ancestors.

Thank you for letting me close this magnificent conference, which celebrates all of who we are and what we have achieved. Before I begin I want to acknowledge the organisers of this eighth gathering – The International Indigenous Council for Healing Our Spirits Worldwide, its visions like yours, such purposeful intentions, that will make change happen. And thank you to the fabulous Australian organisers of this very impressive and special gathering. The Healing Foundation and the University of Sydney, and many others who are entirely committed to the spirit of healing in this world.

For those of you who do not know me, my name is June Oscar. I am here today in my official role as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner based at the Australian Human Rights Commission. My role is to monitor, protect and advocate for the realisation of our unique and collective human rights as Indigenous peoples in Australia. A part of doing this work is ensuring that governments and decision-makers are held accountable to our Indigenous voices. I am currently travelling the country in leading the Wiyi Yani U Thangani project meaning Women’s Voices in my language, to do exactly this. Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have not been heard in a national conversation by our governments and the Australian public for 32 years! And the photos you see behind me are some of the incredible women we have heard from during the project. 

My consideration in this closing address is how being heard, and really listened to is a foundational right that must be achieved for us to heal. We have a right to our voices, and for our truth to be heard without fear of being further silenced or oppressed.

For our international guests to give you a sense of the great expanse of this continent, and the places our voices are coming from, the distance between my hometown and Sydney, is around 5,300kms that is similar to London to Moscow. Australia is big, and beneath the surface of our nation’s name, as should be expected, is a land of hundreds of unique and vibrant countries.

As I have travelled Australia I have listened to the incredible diversity of our voices but have also heard the principles and the values we share in common that keep us connected. This continent cannot be properly understood without knowing that we stand on the lands of First Peoples. We are called Indigenous or Aboriginal but from the east to the west, north to the south, from the centre to the islands of the Torres Strait we are many nations.

These lands hold our spirits, their sovereignty has never been surrendered, and they have always been occupied by our peoples since a time immemorial. In thinking of the power that resides in our countries, today I acknowledge the mother of Native Title – Mrs Mabo, a loving and dedicated mother, a stoic and gentle woman and a formidable activist. She passed on this week. Her spirit remains in the legacy she leaves us, as a tireless defender of our land rights.

Across our planet, home to thousands and thousands of cultures, societies and languages, we all have ancestors – warriors who have fought fiercely to give us the life we have today. It is clear to me, from everything that has been said throughout this conference, all our voices from the ground, from this earth, will be the drivers of our healing and the healing of this planet.

I feel truly honoured to be delivering this closing address amongst so many of our global Indigenous sisters and brothers, aunties and uncles, parents and grandparents, and our non-Indigenous supporters, friends and family. As I heard in the opening of the conference at the ‘Parade of Nations’, we have gathered together as one – the Navajo, Cree, Inuit, Sami and Maori and many others – It was said in the opening that we are relatives deeply connected by the way we think and live. We come from all reaches of this earth – from the coldest climates in the Arctic to the hottest places like my home town – Fitzroy Crossing – and my Bunuba country. In knowing how to survive and thrive in the most diverse and extreme environments on this planet, we are truly global citizens as the First Nations of this earth! 

So, as we close this conference, I want us all to sit for a moment and reflect on this truth that we are from the oldest and richest of heritages and civilizations. We hold in our hands our ancestral legacies, they have constructed us, and they will construct our future.

From my hands, to yours, to our children, and their grandchildren’s grandchildren we share this legacy. In spaces like this conference, a future is already emerging that we will be proud to bestow to our families of seven generations time.

In my society, like all of ours, we have strong protocols and customs, and complex kinship and familial structures to ensure our intergenerational responsibilities as custodians are maintained.

(speaking in Bunuba)
Bunuba ngarri Yiningga Garrma
In Bunuba we say it this way,
Ngarranyi nhi ganbarra guru
We follow the maternal
Ngayini Nyanyjili guru
I am Nyanyjili skin
Nagarra nhingi ngarranyi
From a nagarra skin mother.
What I am saying, is that it is not this skin on our body or the colour of it, it is our kinship structure identification skin.
Nambiyindi is my daughter
Ngarragi walawulu
Mimi ngarragi Nyawana guru
My granddaughter is Nyawana skin from a Nambiyindi mother
Ngarragi mimi walawulu nhi Nagarra
My granddaughter’s daughter, will be my mother
Ngarra guru, ngarragi ngarrany,In my family today if my granddaughter had a daughter, my 80 year old mother would have a new sister.My granddaughter’s daughter’s daughter is Nyanyjili which is the skin I am – she would be my sister.

This is the cycle of relationships which means that everyone has a sister. So this is what we mean when we say our grandchildren’s grandchildren. We are not talking about a straight line of generations into the future. The past, the present and the future is all now. And that is how it will always be. The now is a forever cycle of care for one another, in the right way, the way of respect.

This relationship lore, and knowledge carried within our language, was decided at a very important location on Bunuba country at a place called Jawiy by two men – jirringgin – who is now an owlet night-jar, and wadawiy who has become the spotted nightjar. When we see them today we acknowledge that they are our relations.

So our words are not empty! When we speak our languages it keeps our ancestors forever present and through speaking we are we are waiting for the next generation to arrive and take their place. By the act of speaking everything is connected to everyone who has walked the land before us, and who will come. Each language words carries and talks to our immense knowledge of, all of time, of place, country, and the intimate interactions between the human and the ecological. To give this to the next generation will keep the cycle going that we have always been a part of – that which shapes us and constructs us and speaks to the love and care we have that spans eternity.

Throughout this address I will use Bunuba, because there is healing in our Indigenous words. The United Nations have declared 2019 as the International Year of Indigenous Languages recognising that valuable cultures and knowledge systems exist within the words we speak.

And, in this room, and at this conference I have felt it already, and I know you all can. There is a powerful rising up of our global ancestral knowledge’s. For those of us who have lost our words, our ancestors ancient wisdom is beneath our feet, and above us.

I am so inspired by what I have heard. Throughout this conference, and from my travels in remote and urban communities, there has been a clear and consistent message: We are the answer. And by that, we mean it is our Indigenous knowledge’s, philosophies, societal formations, and most importantly the values we have in common of interconnection, collective responsibility and, we’ve all said it love. This, ‘us’, the awakening of our spirits, of our language, knowledge’s and practices, is what makes healing happen. 

This healing is big. It is big, because for us it is not simply recovery from a trauma isolated in time, unlikely to occur again. Trauma should be abnormal, but in our lives, world-wide, it is all too normal.

Our process of healing must be one where we ignite our spirits from all past and present generations to reclaim our rightful place on this earth, so we can confront, for everyone, systemic and institutional injustices and the abuse of power wherever it falls. To me, this healing of our spirits is intimate and familial, as much as it is collective, political and trans-national.

Our healing must be about:
• eliminating the harms in our societies through dismantling the structures and ideologies that cause division, discrimination and inequality; and
• it is about awakening the power in us all, silenced for too long;
• it is regaining a strong and determined sense of self, connected to our land, languages, and lore, our family and kin;
• it is about the unfolding of truth to undo the denial of our existence and histories within our nations narratives; and
• it is about the beginning of serious and committed reconciliation that lets all our stories be told – Indigenous and non-Indigenous.

What we have learnt at this conference, in the dialogues and discussions are the ways in which we can and are achieving this healing.

The presentations have been diverse, let me name a few - lateral kindness not violence, navigating sexism, racism and oppression, data sovereignty, singing our souls, wellness on the land, transformational leadership, food baskets that make us all flourish, storytelling and tools for decolonization. These topics cut across every sector from justice and health, education, employment, land and resource engagement, climate justice, governance, and many others. Clearly, our work is not about recovery from trauma by just fitting in to every individual sector of western society. Instead, you are all using healing from the ground-up to develop different types of working environments, that are breaking down siloes and producing structures that are reflective of all of who we are as Indigenous peoples.

Why do we do this? Let me say again in Bunuba…
Jurali nhi malngarri ingga wadbirragali biyirranggu thangani biyirranggu birrmingarri
Galangarri-ganday ngarri. Ganday, gamali wadbirragali biyirranggu nhi muwayi jarraa.
Wadbirragali yarrangi yawu biyirranggu binybali
Manjawirrmagi biyirranggu thangani,yarrangiyuwa muwayi
Ngay walangarrwa, ngindaji biyirranggu, yarringga garrgawarra biyirrangu nhi thangani.
Thirrili ngarri manjawarrma yarrangi bali.
Long ago the white man brought his ways to our lands
They brought their words and their ways from their lands, full of their pain and trauma
They made their structures and their ways grow on our lands
We should never forget that this was their ways and not ours.
Let us all leave their ways and strengthen our own paths.

As we all know the system that we live with today is tied to the history of colonisation.

Colonisation attacked our societies. It attempted to erase our foundations – our values – and the structures which enabled these values to thrive in every aspect of life.  From the beginning of the onslaught, known as the ‘killing times’ where I come from, we have been thrown into a war of ideas and worldviews.

The overarching structures that have come to govern our lives in western nations are focused on accumulating extraordinary levels of economic wealth for a few, over the many. This society has dominated by dismissing the worth of communal and collaborative ways of being. Ultimately, by denying our ways of being.

We have felt the world over, the processes which attempted to physically, and spiritually destroy us. From Canada to the USA, to South Africa and here we’ve experienced the massacres the systematic and purposeful removal of our children, forced removal from our traditional lands, the banning of our languages, institutionalisation in missions, schools and prisons, and indentured labour.

These acts are universal. And the colonial system that perpetrated them – the institutions and governance arrangements – are fundamentally still intact today. It is not surprising that this system has not just caused harm to our people, but many others across our nations.

This evidence of structural and institutional abuse is emerging right across the world – we all have national Royal Commissions and Inquires that detail it all. As economic inequalities deepen societies are fracturing both within and between nation states. And the response from our leaders is too often a politics of fear: securing boarders, further eroding of the welfare state and undermining of social security.

The cycle of intergenerational trauma and inequality continues as a system that does not respond to our needs, undermines us. The worst of this is the ongoing removal of our children and the incarceration of our youth, mothers and father. I know in Canada like Australia the number of children in out-of-home care now is disturbingly similar to the numbers taken-away during the Residential Schools and the Stolen Generations.

It’s clear we need a new way of doing things. The global evidence is stark. The patterns of colonisation – of abuse, control, dislocation and intervention – have continued. It is so destructive to the human desire of connection, love and support. As the truth unfolds that the structures we have formed are counter to the most human of values, our global momentum for change is building.

There is a groundswell of resistance against the current structures. We are seeing it in progressive and reformist movements everywhere. This eight gathering is a perfect example of this.

In this conference we have presented our resiliencies and strengths which prove that we are survivors, and healers, and we do thrive beyond adversity.  Colonisation has not broken us. It is the system that is broken. With the evidence laid bare, we cannot go on with business as usual. It does not work. Together, we must heal our spirits to ignite a different way of being in this world.

The time to act is now.

So let me again return to Bunuba…
(speaking in Bunuba)
It is our opportunity now that we will build something very different that we will build this different way based on the values of:
Marurr u yuwa – on embracing, nurturing the preciousness
On Jalngga yuwa – on healing
On Wanjawurru yuwa – on giving
With Thirrili ngarri – with strength
We will sing this way with Junbu – our song
Birijbarra – we will dance this way into being
Let us sing our song and dance our story to keep us strong to build this healing way. Let us make that happen because it is our time to do that. The time is right now.

In my society, every product, every person, every relationship is made through song. When we make something from a child to a spear or a cradle, we make it the strongest it can be, we deliver the best, because of how we craft it through practices, customs and song. These lessons to us in the songs are delivered to us by Ray – by the spirit children. They come in deep slumber, solitude and meditation. These spirits are powerful they see what has gone before and what will come. When we are strong and considered and listen deeply we can have a song for the present that can help us find this new way, a pathway forward.

And right at the beginning of this journey are our values that will develop the best of what we need. With these values at the forefront of how we construct our society we will be able to encounter each other – Indigenous and non-Indigenous – with truth and honesty, integrity and respect.

And it is through this encounter that we can tell our stories and our histories, and begin to rewrite national narratives to include our voices, so our global history, is bigger, richer and more truthful. When we reconcile like this we do not turn away in fear. We learn to hear, to share truths and ultimately transform.

In Australia we are still dealing with the unfinished business of this journey of reconciliation and how to incorporate our voice and rights into the foundational document of this land. Today our Government plans to release the report of the Joint Select Committee on Constitutional Recognition 2018. This will be the most recent in a series of recommendations over the last 10 years. It is well and truly time our governments are held to account in realising our rights, and respond to us by using this report so we have a way forward to reconcile and be recognised. We must be heard with equal weight and consequence in determining the future of this nation together.

This is real reconciliation, one that does not aim for symbolic gestures, but is fiercely committed to uncovering truth in all its forms.

All our lived experiences have profound importance when it comes to considering what a healthy, safe and equal society is, and what we need to deconstruct and transform to get to that state of being.

We can only develop the enabling structures for this society by engaging with each other through the principles I spoke of Marurr – embracing, Jalngga – healing, Wanjawurru – giving, Jhirrili - strength. This is our values base, centred on healing and ongoing collaboration, not individualism and competition.

As I said in my opening we stand here and revitalise our cultural practices to let the words of our ancestors erupt from beneath our feet. When we speak with the full force of who we are, we awaken, heal and ignite our spirits. And here at this conference the strength of our varied and connected global Indigenous perspectives is rising. From the ground-up, we are embracing the diversity of our voices and building a holistic approach that includes us all, no one is alone in this.

Today we can begin this truly transformative work, through our actions, and our words, we will develop a system that is reflective of us, that is us. It realises our human rights because it is born from the best values of our humanity.

The emergence of this world all begins with healing. A healing world-wide which is for us, as much as it is for our global humanity.

Journey safely home, and be fearless in all of who you are. Because believe me, we all stand with you, we are all doing this together. Every step you take remember how connected we all are to this new healing way.

Thank you.