24 June 2023

Wiradjuri elders share their views on NAIDOC Week celebrations

| Jarryd Rowley
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Wiradjuri elders Aunty Mark Atkinson, Aunty Jackie Ingram and Uncle James Ingram

Wiradjuri elders Aunty Mark Atkinson, Aunty Jackie Ingram and Uncle James Ingram spoke to Region about why NAIDOC Week is such an important time on the Australian calendar. Photo: Jarryd Rowley.

This year’s NAIDOC theme is ‘For Our Elders,’ and Region took the opportunity to sit down with local Wiradjuri elders Aunty Mary Atkinson, Aunty Jackie Ingram and Uncle James Ingram, to get their perspective on what it means to each of them.

With the Federal Government about to set a date for a referendum on the proposed Indigenous Voice to Parliament, the elders said this year’s NAIDOC Week, running from 2 July to 9 July, would be an important time to educate the community.

“We are walking on this journey together,” Aunty Mary said.

“It’s about recognising and celebrating that we are the oldest living culture in the world, to be able to come and do that, and share it in a way that we can all be proud and stand tall for our next generation to say that we have survived.

“We have been working towards reconciliation long before the Voice was planned, but the three of us here believe it is a step in the right direction and that events like NAIDOC are important in telling the truth and sharing our stories.”

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Aunty Mary explained that for a lot of First Nations people, NAIDOC week was an important time to reflect on the uncomfortable truths of the past, like the plight of the Stolen Generations.

“It’s not about naming and shaming or blaming,” Aunty Mary said.

“It’s solely about the truth-telling of things that have happened and working with open-hearted and open-minded people who will listen to our history and support one another.”

Aunty Jackie agreed that NAIDOC Week was an important time to recognise the previous generations and acknowledge the hardship that was inflicted on them.

“We haven’t always had reconciliation,” Aunty Jackie said.

“We haven’t always had the chance to tell our story. We need to keep having events like NAIDOC to pay homage to those people. It is important for future generations and all people in Australia to come together and celebrate reconciliation in a positive way.”

This year’s celebrations will see all three local First Nations hubs – at Kooringal, Tolland and Ngurra – working together to provide a united and positive experience.

As members of the Wagga Wagga NAIDOC Committee Aunty Mary, Aunty Jackie and Uncle James said that previous years’ events had sometimes felt disjointed and they hoped to help everybody in the community to feel more connected this year.

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“We’ve decided that each of the hubs will run a different event on each day in their own respective suburb,” Uncle James said.

“In the past, several elders including myself have had to quickly switch between several events at the same time, so this year we thought it would be best to allow each hub to showcase their individual events.”

Aunty Mary said the committee was working hard to ensure that this year’s celebration benefited everyone who will take part.

“All of the hubs are doing great things in the community but they need to be able to be respected by other people in the community,” Aunty Mary said.

“We have a fantastic week of events planned starting with the march down Baylis Street on the Monday followed by the flag raising ceremony. Each of the hubs will host an event throughout the middle of the week and then on the Friday we will be hosting a community day (Family Fun Day).

“We haven’t held a community fun day for a very long time. It’s an opportunity for everyone to come together and join in celebrations for the First Nations people of our beautiful Wagga community.”

You can learn more about NAIDOC Week and the different events and celebrations in Wagga Wagga here.

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