By Bhiamie Williamson, Australian National University
After several tumultuous years of disasters in Australia, this year's NAIDOC Week theme is Heal Country.
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If these events, and the thought of other inevitable climate change-driven disasters sadden or madden you, consider how it impacts Indigenous peoples.
So with this in mind, let’s take a moment to explore the theme of Heal Country in more detail.
More than a landscape.
For Indigenous people, Country is more than a landscape. We tell, and retell, stories of how our Country was made, and we continue to rely upon its resources — food, water, plants and animals — to sustain our ways of life. Country also holds much of our heritage, including scarred trees, stone arrangements, petroglyphs, rock art, tools and much more.
Indigenous people talk of, and to, Country, as they would another person. As the late eminent ethnographer Deborah Bird Rose famously wrote:
Country is not a generalised or undifferentiated type of place, such as one might indicate with terms like ‘spending a day in the country’ or ‘going up the country’.
Rather, Country is a living entity with a yesterday, today and tomorrow, with a consciousness, and a will toward life.
As cultural and spiritual beings, and with deep and ongoing attachments to lands and waters, the impacts of climate change interrupt and make uncertain our unique ways of life. This increasing reality is shared with Indigenous peoples all over the world.
These sentiments were captured by Tishiko King, a Kulkalaig woman from the island of Masi in the Torres Strait. In her reflections on returning home in December 2020, she explained:
I had to pick up the bones of my Elders because erosion is damaging our burial sites. As First Nations people we know that these are our spirits of our old people, and it’s a sign of disrespect.
It’s desecrating who they are. It’s that heart-wrenching pain in your chest.
This is why the National NAIDOC Committee has sought to draw attention to our struggle.
Why Heal Country?
Through this year’s theme, the National NAIDOC Committee invites the whole nation to embrace “First Nations’ cultural knowledge and understanding of Country as part of Australia’s national heritage”.
This requires understanding the depths of Indigenous peoples’ connections to Country and treasuring our heritage values.