The importance, resilience and richness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages will be the focus of national celebrations marking NAIDOC Week 2017.
The 2017 theme - Our Languages Matter - aims to emphasise and celebrate the unique and essential role that Indigenous languages play in both cultural identity, linking people to their land and water, and in the transmission of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, spirituality and rites, through story and song.
Some 250 distinct Indigenous language groups covered the continent at first (significant) European contact in the late eighteenth century. Most of these languages would have had several dialects, so that the total number of named varieties would have run to many hundreds.
Today only around 120 of those languages are still spoken and many are at risk of being lost as Elders pass on.
National NAIDOC Committee Co-Chair Anne Martin said languages are the breath of life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the theme will raise awareness of the status and importance of Indigenous languages across the country.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait languages are not just a means of communication, they express knowledge about everything: law, geography, history, family and human relationships, philosophy, religion, anatomy, childcare, health, caring for country, astronomy, biology and food.
“Each language is associated with an area of land and has a deep spiritual significance and it is through their own languages, that Indigenous nations maintain their connection with their ancestors, land and law,” Ms Martin said.
Committee Co-Chair Benjamin Mitchell hopes that the theme will shine a spotlight on the programs and community groups working to preserve, revitalise or record Indigenous languages, and encourage all Australians to notice the use of Indigenous languages in their community.
“There is currently a wave of activity, with people in many communities working to learn more about their language, and to ensure they are passed on to the next generation before it is too late.’ Mr Mitchell said.
“Nationally, many place names for our suburbs, rivers, mountains and parks are Indigenous language words. Noticing and paying attention to these words will generate greater appreciation and respect for the significance of language among all Australians.
"The preservation and revitalisation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages - the original languages of this nation - is the preservation of priceless treasure, not just for Indigenous peoples, but for everyone."
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists are encouraged to start working on entries for the National NAIDOC Poster Competition that reflects the 2017 theme. The winning entry will be awarded a $5000 cash prize and will be recognised across the country on the 2017 National NAIDOC poster.
The Competition is open now and will close - 5:00pm (AEST) Monday 6 March 2017.
The National NAIDOC Committee also encourages people to acknowledge the contributions and talents of outstanding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals by nominating them for a 2017 National NAIDOC Award. There are ten categories covering the fields of art, education and training, sport, environment and leadership.
Award winners will be honoured during NAIDOC Week at the National NAIDOC Awards Ceremony in Cairns on Saturday 1 July 2017.
Nominations are open now and will close - 5:00pm (AEST) Monday 3 April 2017.
NAIDOC Week 2017 will run nationally from 2-9 July and is an occasion for all Australians to come together to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people - the oldest continuing cultures on the planet.
For more information including competition and nomination forms and ideas on how to celebrate, visit www.naidoc.org.au