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Your guide to First Nations dates of significance in 2022

WORDS BY GEMMA POL

Mark your calendar.

This article is by Common Ground and written by Wiradjuri, Ngemba and Paakantji woman, Gemma Pol. Common Ground is a First Nations-led not-for-profit working to shape a society that centres First Nations people by amplifying knowledge, cultures and stories. This article has been republished with permission.

January 26 – Invasion Day

For many First Nations people, January 26 is not a day of celebration. We often call this day Invasion Day or Survival Day. It marks the beginning of colonisation, land theft, stolen children and oppression.

Learn more about Invasion Day.

It is also the day the Aboriginal Tent Embassy was established in 1972. The Embassy was set up by First Nations activists on the lawns opposite Parliament House in Canberra. The Embassy is a hub for land rights activism and advocating for First Nations sovereignty. This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy.

Learn more about the Aboriginal Tent Embassy.

February 13 – Anniversary of  February – Anniversary of the national apology

On this day in 2008, Kevin Rudd (then Prime Minister) made a formal apology to First Nations people and the Stolen Generations. The Stolen Generations refers to the First Nations children and young people who were removed from their families by Australian federal and state government agencies and church missions between 1910 and 1970. This was the policy of assimilation.

“We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians. We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country,” said Kevin Rudd.

Learn more about the Stolen Generations.

February 13 – 26  – Anniversary of the 1965 Freedom Ride

The 1965 Freedom Ride was a 15-day bus journey through regional New South Wales. It was led by a group of students from the University of Sydney, including Arrernte and Kalkadoon man Charlie Perkins. They drew national and international attention to the racism experienced by First Nations people in country New South Wales.

Learn more about the Freedom Ride.

March 8 – International Women’s Day

Matriarchy (women governance) is central to many First Nations cultures. Women are often the heart of our families and communities. International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.

The day is also about collective action and shared responsibility for protecting human rights. We all have a role to play in achieving justice for women and non-binary people. This year’s theme is #BreakTheBias.

“Imagine a gender-equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination. A world that is diverse, equitable, and inclusive. A world where difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can forge women’s equality. Collectively we can all #BreakTheBias.” – International Women’s Day.

Learn more about International Women’s Day.

March 17 – National Close the Gap Day

National Close the Gap Day is held on the third Thursday of March every year. Close the Gap was started in 2006 by First Nations and mainstream peak health and advocacy organisations. The campaign advocates for health equity between First Nations and non-Indigenous people. The government’s Closing the Gap strategy is different and launched in 2008. This is a series of policies and health targets in which there has been little progress.

Learn more about National Close the Gap Day.

April 5 – Anniversary of the Bringing then Home report

This year is the 25th Anniversary of the Bringing them Home report. The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission delivered the report on April 5 1997, following the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families. The report includes 54 recommendations intended to support healing for the Stolen Generations and their families.

Learn more about the Bringing them Home report.

April 15 – Anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody

On 15 April 1991, the final report was released following the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The report outlined fundamental changes necessary to stop the alarmingly high rates of First Nations deaths in custody. The recommendations were about self-determination, ending over-policing of First Nations communities and reducing the number of First Nations people being taken into custody.

Research by the Australian National University found that very few of the 339 recommendations of the Royal Commission have been implemented, and some current policy positions directly contradict the recommendations. In 2020, the national incarceration rate of First Nations people was almost 30 per cent, despite First Nations people representing less than 3 per cent of the national population. This is more than double the incarceration rate at the time of the Royal Commission. Over three decades later and still we do not have justice.

Learn more about the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

April 25 – ANZAC Day

ANZAC Day is a national day of remembrance to honour the members of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who served in the Gallipoli campaign in World War I. The day also broadly commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders who have served.

It’s difficult to determine the exact number of First Nations people who served in World War I, but it is believed to be more than 1,000. This is because the enlistment process didn’t record a person’s ethnicity, and the Defence Act 1909 banned people from enlisting if they were ‘not substantially of European origin or descent’.

Many First Nations people concealed their identity so they could join. Our people served, and our contribution has been significant. Some made the ultimate sacrifice, going to rest in the Dreaming. Others returned home to Country, only to face racism from White Australia. Importantly, First Nations people have been warriors of our own resistance since 1788.

Learn more about warriors of the Frontier Wars.

May 1 – Anniversary of the Pilbara Strike

On May 1 1946, around 800 First Nations pastoral workers from over 25 different stations in northwest Western Australia went on strike for better wages and working conditions. It was the first industrial action by First Nations people since the beginning of colonisation. The strike lasted until 1949, making it the longest strike in Australian history.

Learn more about the Pilbara Strike.

May 26 – National Sorry Day

National Sorry Day is a day to remember and acknowledge the mistreatment of First Nations people who were forcibly removed from their families and communities – the Stolen Generations. It’s a day to pay tribute to their remarkable strength and resilience, and to reflect on how we can contribute to the healing process of our communities. Because sorry means you don’t do it again. Our kids need culture, community and family so we can continue intergenerational storytelling and knowledge sharing.

Learn more about forced removal of First Nations children

May 27 – Anniversary of the 1967 Referendum

On May 27 1967, an overwhelming majority of Australian citizens voted ‘yes’ in a national referendum to amend clauses of the Australian Constitution concerning First Nations people. Campaigners for the ‘yes’ vote successfully argued that those references were discriminatory and excluded First Nations people from citizenship.

Learn more about the 1967 Referendum. 

May 27 – June 3 – National Reconciliation Week

National Reconciliation Week commences on the anniversary of the 1967 referendum and ends on Mabo Day. It’s a time for people to reflect on reconciliation in Australia, keeping in mind that the word “reconciliation” is considered problematic by some. One of the reasons is because reconciliation means “the restoration of friendly relations”.

As Noongar woman, Claire Coleman, writes in her essay Not Even the Right Word“When reconciling, the fight is ended, peace is restored and people regain the friendship that was lost… In reality, relations between Indigenous Australia and the colony, from Cook shooting the first person he encountered on the continent and onwards to deaths in custody just last week (at the time of writing), remain violent. There are no good relations to restore; no friendship to recover.”

For us, the week is about non-Indigenous people taking responsibility for building stronger, more respectful relationships with First Nations community. It’s about being better allies, by recognising and centering First Nations people as the sovereign and original people of this place we call home.

Learn more about our Week of Action for National Reconciliation Week 2021.

May 29 – Torres Strait Islander Flag Day

On this day in 1992, the Torres Strait Islander flag was officially presented to the people of Zenadth Kes (the Torres Strait Islands) at the sixth Torres Strait Cultural Festival. The flag illustrates the deep connections Torres Strait Islander People have with the sky, sea and islands of the Torres Strait.

Learn more about the Torres Strait Islander flag.

June 3 – Mabo Day

On June 3 1992, the High Court ruled that terra nullius should never have been applied to Australia in the historic Mabo decision. This paved the way for the Native Title Act (1993).

The Mabo decision was named after Eddie Koiki Mabo. He led the challenge alongside Father Dave Passi, Sam Passi, Celuia Mapoo Salee and James Rice. They staunchly advocated for their rights as the Traditional Owners of the island of Mer.

Learn more about the Mabo decision and native title.

June 12 – Anniversary of the Barunga Statement

On June 12 1988, the Barunga Statement was presented to Prime Minister Bob Hawke at the annual Barunga cultural and sporting festival. The statement was written on bark and called for self-determination, a national system of land rights, compensation, an end to discrimination, respect for Aboriginal identity, and the granting of social, economic and cultural rights.

The Prime Minister responded by expressing that he would create a treaty between Aboriginal people and wider Australia by 1990. This commitment has never been fulfilled.

Learn more about the Barunga Statement.

July 3 – 10 – NAIDOC Week

NAIDOC Week is about celebrating First Nations people, cultures and stories. It’s about acknowledging First Nations excellence and centring the deep knowledge First Nations people hold. It’s also about acknowledging our history of activism and protest, and centring truth-telling.

As Gamilaraay and Kooma man, Boe Spearim, writes, “The origins of NAIDOC Week can be traced back to the Aboriginal rights movement.” This year the national NAIDOC theme is: Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up!

Learn more about NAIDOC Week.

July 9 – Anniversary of the Aboriginal flag being flown

The Aboriginal flag was designed by Luritja and Wambaya man Harold Thomas. It was first flown at Victoria Square in Adelaide on National Aborigines* Day in 1971. The following year it became the official flag for the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in Canberra after it was first flown there in 1972. *This term is now considered outdated and offensive.

Today the licence for the Aboriginal flag is held by non-Indigenous companies, and there has been an ongoing struggle for First Nations people to use the flag for commercial purposes. Check out the Free the Flag campaign being run by Clothing the Gaps, who have launched a petition calling for the copyright arrangements to be changed.

Learn more about the Aboriginal flag.

August 4 – National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day

Children’s Day is held annually on August 4. It’s a national day dedicated to celebrating First Nations youngfullas. The day is an initiative of SNAIIC – National Voice for our Children. The first Children’s Day was in 1988, established against the backdrop of protests led by First Nations people and allies to mark the 200-year anniversary of British invasion.

The date August 4 was historically used to celebrate the birthdays of First Nations children who were taken from their families at a young age without knowing their birthday.

Learn more about Children’s Day.

August 9 – International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

On December 23 1994, the United Nations General Assembly decided that the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples will be held annually on August 9. The date marks the first day the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations held a meeting in 1982.

According to the United Nations, there are over 476 million Indigenous peoples living in 90 countries across the world, accounting for 6.2 per cent of the global population.

Learn more about the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

August 13 – Anniversary of the Yirrkala Bark Petitions

On August 13 1963, Yolŋu people from the Yirrkala community in north-east Arnhem Land presented the Australian Parliament with two petitions, one written in Yolŋu Matha and the other in English. These petitions are known as the Yirrkala bark petitions and mark the beginning of the modern land rights movement.

The petitions were a response to a unilateral decision by the Menzies Government to open a bauxite mine at Yirrkala. Bauxite is the main raw material used in the commercial production of aluminium. The petitions were pasted onto bark that had been traditionally painted. They demanded the inherent land rights of Traditional Owners be respected.

Learn more about land rights in the Northern Territory.

August 23 – Anniversary of the Gurindji Wave Hill Walk-Off

On 23 August 1966, the Gurindji people made history with the Wave Hill Walk-Off. The Wave Hill Walk-Off started as a strike for better wages and working conditions at the Wave Hill cattle station in the Northern Territory. The strike soon became more than that, leading to a seven-year action for land rights.

Gurindji man and elected leader of the strike, Vincent Lingiari, knew the land they worked on belonged to Gurindji people and demanded it be returned. “You can keep your gold. We just want our land back,” he famously said.

Learn more about the Wave Hill Walk-Off.

August 25 – Australian South Sea Islander national recognition 

On this day in 1994, then Prime Minister Paul Keating officially recognised South Sea Islanders as a distinct cultural group. This was followed by a formal Recognition Statement by the Queensland Government in September 2000, which acknowledged the incredible contributions of South Sea Islanders to the development of Queensland, as well as the injustices perpetrated by White Australia.

Learn more about Australian South Sea Islander Recognition Day.

August 26 – One year anniversary of Waddananggu

Waddanganggu means ‘the talking’ in Wirdi language. It is a ceremony on Wangan and Jagalingou Country in the Galilee Basin, Central Queensland. On 26 August 2021, Wangan and Jagalingou people set up a stone Bora ring and ceremonial ground opposite Adani’s Carmichael Mine.

Since then, at least one Wangan and Jagalingou person has been inside the Bora ring, ensuring the sacred fire continues. Wangan and Jagalingou people are asserting their human rights as Traditional Owners to practice culture on Country.

Learn more about Waddananggu.

September 7 – Indigenous Literacy Day

Indigenous Literacy Day is presented by the Indigenous Literacy Foundation. It’s an opportunity to advocate for, promote and celebrate First Nations stories and language. This year will be the 12th Indigenous Literacy Day and national celebration.

Learn more about Indigenous Literacy Day.

September 25 – Anniversary of Cathy Freeman winning gold at the Olympics

Cathy Freeman is a Kuku Yalanji and Burri Gubba woman. She won the gold medal in the 400m at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. She was the first Aboriginal person to be an Athletics Olympic Champion.

“I feel like I’m being protected. My Ancestors were the first people to walk on this land. It’s a really powerful force. Those other girls were always going to have to come up against my Ancestors. For the first time, I feel the stadium, I feel the people, I feel the energy. I feel like I’m being carried. I know exactly what I need to do. I know how to do this. I can do this in my sleep. I can win this. Will win this. Who can stop me?” – Cathy Freeman in Freeman.

In 2007, Cathy established the Cathy Freeman Foundation to support First Nations children and families achieve their education dreams.

Learn more about Cathy Freeman.

October 1 – International Day of Older Persons

The UN’s International Day of Older Persons is held annually on October 1. It’s a day to recognise and celebrate older persons and bring awareness to the issues affecting them. In First Nations communities, Elders and Old People hold cultural authority. They are respected for their stories and knowledge, song and ceremony. We honour them for their unwavering care for Country and Mob. They are our best teachers!

Learn more about the International Day of Older Persons.

October 26 – Anniversary of Uluru handback

Uluru is sacred to Anangu people. It is central to their Dreaming stories and Law (Tjukurpa). Anangu people lobbied for the return of their ancestral lands for decades. The Uluru handback took place at the base of Uluru on October 26 1985. Hundreds of First Nations and non-Indigenous people looked on as the Governor-General passed over the title deeds for Uluru–Kata Tjuta to Anangu people. The Uluru climb was closed permanently on October 26 2019, on the 34th anniversary of the handback.

Learn more about the Uluru handback.

December 10 – Human Rights Day

Human Rights Day is held every year on December 10. This was the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. The UDHR is an important document and milestone. It states the rights that every human being is entitled to, “regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

It’s available in more than 500 languages, making it the most translated document in the world. First Nations people often have to work harder to protect our human rights because of systemic racism and deep-rooted forms of discrimination.

Learn more about Human Rights Day.

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