A fork in the road: to stand with First Nations People, or to go head-to-head with them

With 26 January once again upon us, do we celebrate this National Day, or do we respect and commemorate Australia’s First Nations Peoples as the longest living culture, or can we do both? 

Jaki Adams

For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the 26th of January is not a national day of celebration, and the lead-up creates an anxious and distressing start to the year. We have seen momentum and support building to ‘change the date’ to one that does not mark the beginning of colonisation in Australia, disregarding its First Nations Peoples, and to one that ALL Australians can truly celebrate as a nation. If we are ‘all in this together’ as the catch cry of the last two years of the COVID pandemic suggests, can we not find a better date to come together as Australians?

As a proud Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian with mixed heritage, I would love a national day that is significant and able to be celebrated by ALL Australians – we are the fair and lucky country they say, so let’s have a date that ALL Australians can embrace. 

Listening to podcasts that discuss the problematic nature of celebrating 26 January, the opinions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on this issue also vary. A common thread though is that whilst there remains unaddressed trauma – the true history of this country is untold and the inequality facing First Nations Peoples continues to be accepted or even worse, ignored and overlooked – how do we move forward? The majority of voices call for the date to be changed, it is symbolic in all the wrong ways, and a change of date seems to be an ‘easy’ fix. 

In the Black Magic Women podcast we hear a variety of First Nations voices. In episode 52 ‘January 26th. Invasion Day. Survival Day.’ Mick Gooda discusses how he has changed his mind on the 26 January over time, and suggests keeping the date but not framing it as a national day of celebration as it doesn’t bring everyone together. Mick’s perspective is that “it keeps on reminding people that we survived, we adapted and we are not going anywhere”. Dr Chelsea Watego highlights yet again, that we (First Nations Peoples) didn’t ask for the events that occurred on, around, or following 26 January, and we sure aren’t going to celebrate it. Yet at the same time we are still being forced into that act by those who lack the understanding of the intergenerational trauma that accompanies the day. Disturbingly, from the first day of the new year, blackfellas are forced to exhaust the emotional and intellectual labour to remind those who came after us of who we are, where we came from, and what we are asking for. And even with this effort, we still get drowned out, ignored and not listened to. 

In my hometown of Garramilla, the Larrakia Nation (Darwin), we will see a significant shift this year, a shift to reflect respect and celebrate as one:

“Australia Day 2022 is about encouraging all communities across the Northern Territory to embrace the national narrative of ‘Reflect, Respect, Celebrate – we are all a part of the story’ – and work towards creating a more inclusive Australia Day for all Territorians.” Nigel Browne, Larrakia and Chair of the Australia Day Council of the NT

Whatever your view of 26 January, we know that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples continue to take a stance – demanding a seat at the decision-making table; and progressing a narrative that celebrates who we are, our rightful place, our resilience, and our collective achievements. The issuing of the Uluru Statement From The Heart is evidence of this and is a call to all Australians to join us in making a difference for our Peoples and our Country. The Uluru Statement calls for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution’

The Voice, along with a commitment to the process of Treaty-making and to Truth-telling, would empower First Nations Peoples to take our rightful place in our own country’. This is the voice of the people, this is what the people want. Not for decisions to continually be made about us or for us; not dates to remind First Nations People of the harm caused to their families and communities. Not for a singular word to be changed in our national anthem, expecting this to make a difference, with no consultation; and not for the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to be continually diminished and disregarded. Again, the Uluru Statement calls for the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution’ not for a Voice to Government as announced at the end of 2021 that disregards the overwhelming and broad support for the Uluru Statement

Always Was and Always Will Be’ – Australia’s First Nations Peoples must be at the decision-making tables and at the forefront of all discussions being had about decisions and policies that will impact us and our communities. This is the significant change that is needed. This is the truth hidden within the ongoing debates over the date of 26 January. 

Jaki Adams

Jaki was born and raised in Garramilla (Darwin) on Larrakia Country, and is of both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent, with ancestral links to the Yadhaigana and Wuthathi people of Cape York Peninsula in Queensland, traditional family ties with the Gurindji people of Central Western Northern Territory and extended family relationships with the people of the Torres Straits and Warlpiri (Yuendumu NT). Jaki has a personal and professional commitment to do whatever she can to improve the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and those most marginalised.

Jaki has over 25 years’ experience in the government and international development sectors and has held many leadership roles in Australia, including Chair of Vision 2020 Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Committee; and is currently a Vision 2020 Australia Board Member; The Fred Hollows Foundation’s lead representative on the national Close the Gap Steering Committee (Health Equity and Social Justice); joined the ANTaR Board in December 2019; and more recently, became a Board Director of Thirrili Ltd (Indigenous Suicide Postvention Service). Jaki has been at The Fred Hollows Foundation for close to 10 years and her current role as Director of Social Justice and Regional Engagement within the Office of the CEO sees her continuing to champion her drive and passion for health equity, elevating the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and progressing true allyship; supporting strategic eye care relationships across the Pacific; and progressing a global network to improve eye care access for Indigenous and Tribal Peoples. In previous roles at The Foundation, Jaki has overseen the Indigenous Australia Program and eye care programming across the Pacific, Timor Leste, the Philippines and Indonesia.