The EQI's Guide to Being an Ally this NAIDOC Week and Beyond
NAIDOC originally stood for the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee, which was once responsible for organising national activities during NAIDOC Week. Now, its acronym has become the name of the week itself. You can find out more about the history and origins of NAIDOC Week here. NAIDOC Week is a time to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Each year, a new theme is chosen for NAIDOC week and this year’s theme – Because of her, we can – celebrates the contributions, courage and advocacy of women.
"As pillars of our society, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have played – and continue to play - active and significant roles at the community, local, state and national levels. As leaders, trailblazers, politicians, activists and social change advocates, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women fought and continue to fight, for justice, equal rights, our rights to country, for law and justice, access to education, employment and to maintain and celebrate our culture, language, music and art."
NAIDOC Week is first and foremost for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Non-indigenous people are encouraged to contribute to the celebration that is NAIDOC through participating respectfully, and with awareness, in events that are open to all. Good allyship requires action, and it also means recognising when to take a step back and accept that you are not always invited into a space. With NAIDOC Week taking place, it’s a great time to reflect on how to be a good ally, so we’ve put together some ideas for support and action during NAIDOC Week and beyond.
1. Educate yourself
Take some time to reflect on your own beliefs, attitudes, unconscious bias and gaps in knowledge. Do you perpetuate certain stereotypes or prejudice about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples? Do you hold any racist views? What is driving you to participate? Do you have any expectations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures that are grounded in narrow perspectives? Work to understand and uncover why you hold the beliefs you have and whether you need to challenge these.
Then consider educating yourself on the culture, affairs and issues that affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across Australia. Seek out informed news articles, follow @IndigenousX on Twitter, learn from their website here and websites like Deadly Questions and The Vic Treaty, read books, attend talks, watch programs like NITV, do some research into statistics and broaden your knowledge of these areas.
The effects of colonisation are ongoing and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are impacted severely by them, and its patriarchal roots. For example, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experience violence at higher rates than non-Indigenous women, and are 32 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of family violence-related assaults than non-Indigenous women (1).
Further to this, the national rate of imprisonment is 15 times higher for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women comprise 34% of women behind bars, while only making up 2% of the adult female Australian population (2). In prison, these women, and people, are not getting the help they need and are dying every day and yet, this is overlooked and undermined again and again.
The culture and history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is rich and diverse and something to be proud of. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are part of the oldest living continuous culture in the world. Before colonisation, studies have shown there were approximately 250 Aboriginal languages spoken across Australia. Today 145 of these languages remain, with only 18 languages being spoken widely. Reconciliation Australia offers a great guide to start with. It’s not up to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to educate you, nor to find all the solutions – it’s up to each of us to educate ourselves and work, every day, to dismantle white supremacy.
2. Recognise the value of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and pay them for their work and services – especially women
Asking people from marginalised groups to perform labour – whether emotional, mental or physical – is work that deserves compensation. And compensation in the form of money, not simply praise or ‘publicity’. Treat Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with respect and value their time. Don’t engage in their services in one-dimensional ways but allow each individual to show up as their full selves and be respected for that – not for what they can give or teach you.
3. Call out racism and sexism
And don’t expect to be celebrated for doing so. Every human deserves equal rights, respect and opportunities and calling out racism and sexism is basic decency. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experience multiple forms of oppression and it’s important to recognise this and be intersectional in your feminism. Use your privilege to challenge racism and sexism. Create space for the voices and opinions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, especially women and always question whose voices are missing from conversations.
4. Give your time and/or money
Showing up and giving your time to important causes and community work can be an important way to support. What’s most important, however, when doing so, is assessing your intention. Ask yourself: why are you giving your time or money to a cause or organisation? You’re there to support the work of marginalised groups – not to offer your opinions, speak on behalf of someone else or tick off a box to feel good. Respect that some events and spaces are not for you to attend. In protest situations, don’t talk – listen, and don’t take up the space of those who are marginalised. Don’t argue or minimise the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, especially women. Acknowledge that sovereignty was never ceded – that Australia is and always will be Aboriginal land.
A true ally is active and advocates for change. The work that needs to be done to dismantle white supremacy, the patriarchy and more, should not solely fall on the shoulders of the people it oppresses. It must be shouldered by everyone.
Some causes and organisations doing important work that you might like to support and find out more about:
Djap Wurrung Heritage Protection Embassy – protecting culturally significant sites and important trees that are under threat by the VicRoads Western Highway Duplication project at Buangor in Western Victoria. There is also a Go Fund Me account set up here to support those on the frontline. Djirra – support services for Aboriginal women, especially those who have experienced, or are currently experiencing, family violence.
Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance (WAR) – a collective of young Aboriginal people committed to the cause of decolonisation and the philosophy of Aboriginal nationalism, resistance and revival.
Koorie Youth Council – the representative body for young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Victoria to amplify their voices to ignite social change.
SEED Mob – Australia’s first Indigenous youth climate network.
5. Get involved and spread the word
Celebrate NAIDOC week and head along to the events being held across Melbourne (and Australia). Support these activities, engage with the initiatives and spread the word to others. We’ve put together an interactive map that shows you some of the things that are happening during NAIDOC week. Download it here and find out what’s happening near you.
And don’t forget to celebrate Indigenous culture outside of NAIDOC week too. Buy Indigenous fashion (check out Haus of Dizzy), read books by First Nations people (we’ve included a starting list here), attend events lead by Indigenous people across theatre, music, art and more. There are so many amazing things happening across Australia all the time so remember to celebrate and support where you can.
(1) Steering Committee for the Review of Government Service Provision (2016) Overcoming Indigenous disadvantage: Key indicators 2016, Productivity Commission, Canberra, p.4.98, and table (table 4A.12.13).