“My people identify as the Eagle Clan” (Wedge Tail Eagle), explains proud Weimpija Gurnu - Baakandji man from North Western NSW, Stephen Howarth, who also identifies with the Kunja and Buditji people of South West Queensland.
“In the words of the Barkandji… ‘Weimplija yalka dindala muttija gulpa’: Black Man Mouth Make Strong Talk.”
The Aboriginal Affairs NSW Acting Regional Manager for the Greater Western Region is passionate about equality for all First Nations peoples. But he says that it is equally important to maintain identity with language, culture and connection to country.
“Our language is identity, culture and connection. Teaching our little ones now will provide the grounding for them to walk in years to come as proud strong First Nations people.”
"It will be a long journey, but the first step is recognition and protection of the First Languages of NSW."
In 1788, there were at least 35 First Languages and about 100 dialects spoken in NSW. These were decimated due to colonisation. Speaking an Aboriginal language was an excuse for removing children from their families, so language became taboo. This meant languages weren't openly spoken or taught to younger generations for decades.
“Members of the Stolen Generations have said how much loss of language affected them, but equally how revival of language, especially their grandchildren learning their language, is part of the healing journey,” Howarth said.
“There is also evidence that Aboriginal children who are learning language have improved educational outcomes.”
Now, the NSW Government is working with Aboriginal communities to protect and strengthen Aboriginal languages. It comes after the introduction of new legislation that forces government to actively support the revival and preserve Aboriginal languages, not only for today’s communities, but for future generations.
Howarth says this time "it is the communities who own and control their languages".
“This legislation is taking steps towards addressing what happened to Aboriginal languages since colonisation. It will be a long journey, but the first step is recognition and protection of the First Languages of NSW, as well as providing a stronger foundation for our future generations to enjoy and share them,” he says.
“Aboriginal people are the owners of their languages, so it is essential that government works with Aboriginal communities on this legislation. Aboriginal people are used to having legislation made without their voices being heard. But we are working with communities to ensure that the right people - the knowledge holders - are with us on this journey and that the legislation reflects what the community want.”
More than 30 people from across South East NSW gathered in Moruya today to discuss proposed legislation to recognise and protect NSW Aboriginal languages.
Dhurga Aboriginal language teacher, Trish Ellis, said Yuin people never lost their language, despite the harm of past government practices, and it is exciting to see the language re-awaken.
“The workshop had great representation of the Yuin people and all four South East coast languages,” said Ms Ellis.
“It was obvious from the content of conversations today that the majority of people are very passionate about language and cultural revival.”
NSW Aboriginal Land Councillor, Danny Chapman, was at Moruya and said he was pleased to be discussing legislation.
“The workshop was well attended ... and I was really pleased to see a lot of people made the effort to come from afar,” he said.
“I was extremely happy to hear our community talk about how important our language is to them, their identity and wellbeing.”
Howarth says everyone must understand that First Languages of NSW are vital to the culture and wellbeing of Aboriginal people.
“Aboriginal communities are being asked what the legislation should look like and what it should say - that's an amazing opportunity for Aboriginal people to shape this legislation and make sure it reflects the interests of Aboriginal people across NSW.”