Once again the debate about Australia Day and the date on which it is celebrated is occupying newspaper front pages and the minds of politicians and activists of all shapes and sizes. It is a legitimate debate when some see this day as the day to unite us and others see it as a day to divide.
While I think there could be a better day, I am mindful of what this day is and is not for Aboriginal people in particular. It is not the day that defines us, or even, defines this country. It is the day we remember the colonisation of Australia and the raising of the empire’s flag on our shores.
In this sense, yes, it is invasion day. It is the day when life changed dramatically for people who were used to great challenges and the hardships of living in this brutal country. It is the day that brought a seemingly endless genocide as many of our people died in those early days from war and disease, and many continue to die from neglect and poverty. This is undeniable.
But for Aboriginal people this day is much more than that.
It is not a day of lament and mourning. While we recognise the reality of what has come as a result of that day and feel deeply the loss in our bodies and our souls, it is not a day to sit and weep. What has happened has happened; what is, is.
It is not the day we became victims. It is not the day we become victims of outside forces and allow those outside forces to define and reduce us to the status of victims. We had always had to deal with outside forces in terms of nature and other Aboriginal nations, and we found ways to live in relationship without become victims of the harshness of this country.
It is not a day when we forget who we are. It is not a day when we forget who we are and what we have brought and continue to bring to this country and the conversation between blackfellas and whitefellas. Our culture, insights and wisdom continue to have influence and shines through the culture overlaid upon it by those who came here. We are still here.
It is a day when we can celebrate our sovereignty. No matter what is done to us, or whether we ever get a treaty, we continue to be the sovereign people of this country. This will always be our country and we can be who we are fully on and in our country regardless of what others do to us. We carry that sovereignty in our bodies and when we stand and walk tall and proud, when we respond to violence non-violently, when we live with respect for our selves, our country and others we continue to be sovereign elders of the land.
It is a day when we can celebrate with dignity. When we refuse to join the oppressor by becoming aggressive, argumentative and violent, we retain the dignity of country and self. Others may want to make this day divisive but not us. It is their day and that’s ok. We will not take ourselves down by responding to it in the ways they expect us to. The moment we see it as a lament or take the role of victim; we lose our dignity as a people.
It is a day we can celebrate our people. It is a day we celebrate the powerful people of all the ages who have exemplified the spirit of the Aboriginal people – resistance leaders, activists, politicians, religious, artists, musicians, writers, poets and sports people. We celebrate the everyday Aboriginal people who resist the colonial occupation as parents, students, lawyers, doctors, teachers and more. We celebrate those who maintain culture and traditional lifestyles and those who combine the traditional with the modern.
So, do we need to change the day?
Perhaps it could be changed. Perhaps how we talk and think about it and ourselves needs to change first.