Add to this the impact to our living standards through unemployment, under-employment, access to goods and services, including food and medicines, and I believe that most of us have had a big hit to our sense of confidence, identity and capacity for self-determination.
These impacts and outcomes reflect what many of our First Nations people have experienced as part of their everyday pre-COVID lives. This is amplified in regional and remote areas, where insufficient health, education and training services, poverty, food insecurity, lack of transport and access to reliable communications and overcrowded, insufficient or uninhabitable housing problems exist.
That our Australian community is working out how to cope and survive through the COVID-19 pandemic is remarkable, but that our First Nations people have survived through centuries of living in inequitable and restrictive conditions like this is a true testament to their adaptability, innovation, courage, determination and resilience.
On a positive note, the COVID-19 pandemic offers us opportunities to consider what we, as a united Australian community, value most, and what we would like to change as we recover and rebuild our social and economic systems and our confidence and direction as a nation.
Which brings us to the opportunities to advance reconciliation through the focus of NRW from 27 May to 3 June every year. These dates commemorate two significant milestones in the reconciliation journey – the 1967 Referendum acknowledging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and the High Court Mabo decision, respectively.
NRW is a time for all Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures, and achievements, and to explore how each of us can contribute to achieving reconciliation in Australia. The theme for NRW 2020, In This Together, reinforces that we all have a role to play when it comes to reconciliation.
This year NRW is also celebrating three special anniversaries:
- 20 years since Reconciliation Australia was established to inspire and enable all Australians to contribute to the reconciliation of the nation, and to oversee the Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) program;
- 20 years since the reconciliation walks of 2000, when Australian people came together to walk on bridges and roads across the nation and show their support for a more reconciled Australia; and
- Three years since the biggest gathering of Australian First Nations people handed the Australian Government and people the Uluru Statement from the Heart, outlining their ongoing call for a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution, and Treaty-making based upon a process of Truth-telling.
So we should recognise the efforts of those Australians who have contributed to changes driving greater reconciliation, including wider acknowledgement of First Nations people’s rights to land and sea; increased understanding of the impact of government policies and frontier conflicts; and an embracing of stories of Indigenous success and contribution as part of our shared history.
In reflecting on our past, we also have the opportunity to reassess, redesign and recommit to our future, by considering and working towards what a reconciled, fair, equitable and unified Australia would look, feel and act like.
Reconciliation begins as a personal journey to learn about how we can grow and strengthen respectful and long-term relationships between each other. It must firstly live in our collective hearts and minds if it is to successfully translate into meaningful change and actions by each of ourselves and the wider Australian community.
Please take the time to reflect, commit and take action this #NRW2020 #InThisTogether.