opinion

'Before choosing to celebrate on January 26, would you please consider these 5 things first.'

In 2020, Mamamia will only refer to January 26 on our homepage by its date, to acknowledge that it is not a day of celebration for all Australians. If you want to be an ally this January 26, we urge you to sign this letter to your MP about the Uluru Statement from the Heart – which calls for constitutional change and structural reform that recognises the sacred, ancient spiritual link Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have to their land.

January 26th. Australia Day. Invasion Day. Survival Day.

No matter what you call it, we can all agree there’s no other date on the calendar that divides the country with the same intensity as this one.  This debate over what day of the year is most appropriate to celebrate Australia on – or in fact, whether Australia is worth celebrating at all – is one of the most emotionally distressing and socially ostracising topics that myself and most of my Indigenous brothers and sisters are forced to face every single year.

WATCH: Why January 26th is one of the most complex dates in Australia. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia

Quite often it feels as though, as far as our governments and a portion of non-Indigenous Australian’s are concerned, we Indigenous Australians should “get over it”, with all the “handouts” and special considerations we’re supposedly overwhelmed with, how dare we ask the generous white hand that feeds us for more, right?

And the mere suggestion of changing our national celebration from a date that marks the moment over two centuries of oppression began its infliction on the nation’s first people, is “Un-Australian.”

Don’t get me wrong, I am unequivocally proud to call myself an Australian. I have been lucky to travel to many parts of the world, and each time I do I am only reassured that we live on the most beautiful continent on the planet. But, I am also certain in my belief that the state of Australia today remains to systematically discriminate against and consciously situate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, below the rest of the population.

So on the 26th of January every year, the only thing I have to celebrate, is my peoples enduring survival.

As many “true-blue Aussies” dust off their flags and wear singlets to strategically reveal their southern cross tattoos leading up to the day, the media is flooded with the topic and the likelihood of the debate coming up in the lunchroom at work or even the classroom at school, increases tenfold.

This is where the intense fear and anxiety I feel every year arises. I have no problem voicing my opinion on just about any topic at any other time of the year, but around this date, the weight of what my ancestors have suffered before me and the injustices my brothers and sisters remain to face today sits heavy on my shoulders.

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The thought of having my justifications for hating the date and what it represents, dragged out of me by some person who wants to hear it just to offer a rebuttal, is exhausting.

For the sake of us all, in the hopes we might get through the day and the conversations leading up to it with a little more ease and productivity, I’ve compiled some important tips and facts to consider before this January 26th rolls around:

  • The 26th of January marks the anniversary of the First Fleet sailing into Port Jackson in 1788 and raising the Union Jack for the first time, falsely claiming stolen Aboriginal land under the ownership of the King of England and kickstarting the following two centuries of unimpeded genocide, slavery, theft and murder of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
  • The first ever national day was celebrated on the 30th of July 1915, not in recognition of the establishment of the colonies, but instead to raise money for the WWI effort. ‘Australia Day’ itself was only formalised as a national holiday in 1994 and prior to this all states and territories celebrated on different dates. In short, changing what it means and when it’s held is nothing new or difficult.
  • Aboriginal people have been advocating against January 26th since before it was declared a national day of celebration, having called for it to be considered a Day of Mourning since 1938.
  • Many Australians with backgrounds other than Indigenous similarly feel uncomfortable at the thought of celebrating the day. Particularly our migrant communities and other non-white groups, as they are often left feeling unwelcomed on the day, thanks to a xenophobic minority who use it as an opportunity to dictate who is or isn’t ‘really’ Australian.
  • If you’ve heard about the Survival Day march happening in your city or another event run by the local Aboriginal community and wondering if it’s ok for you to join, the answer is a big YES. The support of the broader community is pivotal as we lean towards change and we want all people from all backgrounds to come and be a part of it with us!

Want to wear our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags in solidarity with us too but you’re worried because you’re not Indigenous? Go ahead! If you are respecting us and wearing it for the pride you also hold in our culture, that’s awesome!

Listen to Mamamia’s podcast, Tiddas 4 Tiddas. It features candid conversations with our Indigenous sisters, hosted by Kamilaroi and Dunghutti woman, Marlee Silva. Post continues below.

It is fantastic when our non-Indigenous friends want to learn more and build a stronger perspective around this debate and what it means. We encourage you to take the time to read and listen to as many Indigenous voices as possible. But remember not every Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person is going to feel comfortable as a spokesperson for the day. Respect their decision to talk about it or not and please do not call them out in the workplace or a social setting.

This is just a starting point, think critically about what you’ve been doing up until this point and how you can do better – for yourself and for our nation’s future. I love Australia, even with all the scars and wounds that come with it, but I cannot separate the 26th of January from its direct linkage to my peoples suffering for over two centuries. I and many others, will never be able to celebrate this continent as it exists today on that date.

It is important to stress though, I will similarly continue to feel unable to celebrate Australia on any day, if the date change isn’t accompanied by an attitude and action change too. To me, a large part of the problem is the national identity crisis we have. Being a country built on lies and violence, the toxicity of Australia’s foundations has clouded any understanding of what it truly means to be Australian.

In turn, the most important next step is not just changing the date, but changing how we perceive ourselves and how we relate to one and other, through our values and respect for differences.

Feature image:Instagram/@marlee.silva

Follow Tiddas 4 Tiddas, an Instagram account Marlee co-founded with her sister Keely, dedicated to profiling Indigenous excellence. 

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