Yuuingan Dhilla Yari 2023

The highlights of the Queensland Indigenous Language’s Symposium held at the State Library Queensland, on 4th of May 2023 were: the Kutaw Zoeru Torres Strait Islander Dance Troupe; learning about the project and policy work of First Languages Australia; and all the afternoon workshops particularly the presentation of Desert Pea Media, on building creative bridges between Elders and younger generations in community.

The major focus of this years symposium was youth. There was a youth workshop stream attached to the event, which occurred at the same time as the workshops for adults. In these sessions, held at the Edge, youth were learning about song and poetry and writing in language and language song recording.

The symposium brought together Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages speakers, language workers, organisations, cultural leaders and youth for a full day of keynote presentations, panel discussions and workshops; to provide a platform to look towards the future and share strategies, initiatives and best practice models, to ensure the ongoing revival of Queensland Indigenous languages in the 21st century for and by future generations.

Master of Ceremonies, Rhianna Patrick, introduced all speakers and the dancers with warmth and enthusiasm whilst alerting the audience to the slido system to pose questions. They could identify themselves or do so anonymously, for the panel sessions throughout the day, which could be accessed QR Codes.

Tribal Experiences, welcomed us into the space with story, performance and speech. Then Minister Honourable Leeanne Enoch, MP who since the symposium has been appointed to Minister for Treaty and Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships, in her address focused on how important it is for First Nations people to reclaim language, which is a vital part of their cultural DNA. Truth telling, reclamation are all part of the healing for First Nations community. Waking up ‘dormant aspects’ ‘of culture so First nations can hear their languages is a powerful thing.

Vicki MacDonald (State Library CEO), gave an impressive beginning in the local language, and informed us there will be a further two symposiums and wished all of the symposium attendees well.

The consideration of advocacy, sector support and partnership by one of the key note speakers, Beau Williams CEO from First Languages Australia, was extremely comprehensive. It was interesting to find out about the impact of collaborations and community driven initiatives. The ultimate goal of this diverse and interrelated initiatives is to strive for wide spread speaking of language rather than just preservation.

It was wonderful as a former ABC Open guest producer and contributor for the 500 words project, to see that another project of ABC Open, the mother tongue project had such a big impact on the development of further projects even though it no longer exists, and that ABC have a large number of video resources supporting First Nations language intergenerational sharing.

I was impressed and delighted to learn of the introduction of Jandai language class at Cleveland Highschool by Kahli Dawkings, where Jandai is taught alongside other languages such as French, and is being sensitively, gradually and appropriately implemented within the the school. Kahli Dawkings, although First Nations, explained how, she was not from that language area, but worked closely and respectfully with the Elders to introduce the program.

It was inspiring to learn about the intergenerational dialogue being fostered by Desert Pea Media , and used to empower the creation of high quality, expressive videos bringing together values, languages, well being, and contemporary youth expressions to build community. This session, with practical examples of videos was highly creative and warmly received by the audience.

When non-Indigenous participants asked questions, of the three presenters, Toby Finlayson, creative director and two highly engaging Hip Hop First Nations Artists about best practice of how they could respectfully become involved with First Nations projects, Toby, shared how important friendship is and working in organic and respectful ways. If you work well with people you will be invited to do more work. They have also found over time that their model of working for a few weeks a time in community has led to invitations to return and work more long term, and they are embarking on more long term residencies within communities.

The final session I attended was with, Joyce Bonner Schultz, and her daughter who demonstrated they have been working together, to keep  Butchulla culture and language alive. This session turned into gifting the knowledge of some of that language with the audience, and a beautiful discussion of the stories of the creatures the words represented, including a sharing of a story that a traditional name chooses you through a significant event that may occur three times on country. This storytelling aspect was also present in the earlier presentation of the Torres Strait dancers, who explained their dances sunflower dancing, crane dancing, pelican dance and tide in, tide out.

By the end of the day I had a series of super interesting resource links to look up, an even deeper sense of the holistic connection between language, culture, environment, closing the gap, and well being and an appreciation of the opportunity the International Decade of the Indigenous Languages presents for First Nations people to have community driven projects firmly established across the country. I also knew some words for animals and places, like the creek.

The major take home message of the symposium for the basket of all attendees, was that the renewal and awakening of First Nations languages is happening in culturally appropriate and innovative ways; and language is not gone but dormant and in the cultural DNA of First Nations people. The many ways in which to achieve this reclamation and renewal are through, media, education, community, Elders and young people working together, policy, action, and collaborations born from friendship and respect. The title of the symposium, friends, basket, talk, is highly apt, to that message.

On a personal level, I found the atmosphere of the symposium to be welcoming of all attendees and many presenters were approachable for questions and chats between sessions. I particularly enjoyed ongoing chats with a librarian who attended the event and we later found we had a mutual friend in her cousin.

The experience and knowledge shared at the symposium encouraged me to continue to share and renew my relationship with my mother’s language, from Maipa Village, Papua New Guinea as part of the global interest and valuing of First Nations across the Pasifika Region, and inspired by the symposium. And to reach out and learn about First Nations languages of any local area I might travel to or engage with as a teacher or creative writer.

[Note: Yuuingan Dhilla Yari – Friends, Basket, Talk from Yuggera Language] From Gaja Kerry Charlton and the Yagarabul Elders Cultural Heritage and Languages Aboriginal Corporation who provided the name for the Symposium]

Articles and Videos of Interest

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Indigenous Names and Languages in the National Conversation

Published by June

Writer, photographer, lover of unity in diversity in thought and humanity - poet by nature, world citizen

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