Indigenous people in this country have endured, resiled against all that has been dealt by colonising forces for over 230 years. There has been violence beyond most peoples’ comprehensions, irreparable trauma from familial destruction, decimation of cultural land and locations, loss of language and for those taken — loss of their very identity. Although the trauma and damage remains, there have been no others who have endured a greater ordeal than our Elders.
Our Elders have been the foundation for our culture to continue. Without their strength, we would surely be lost.
Although every day is a day we should be honouring our Elders, today is an excellent reason to honour them and to publicly show what they mean to each of us and what they have given us with their presence.
Today is International Day for Older Persons and our Elders are particularly special for their resilience in the face of overwhelming odds stacked against them.
To our Elders.
Thank you for all that you do, all that you are and all that you have done. Thank you for being the guiding force throughout our journeys on this land amidst the chaos of colonisation. Thank you for your leadership. Thank you for your kindness and compassion when we feel isolated and alone. Thank you for the cup of tea, the sandwich in brown paper for the road and for always leaving a light on.
Thank you for fighting for the right to be considered human. Thank you for fighting for the right to vote. Thank you for fighting for access to education. Thank you for fighting for healthcare services and legal services. Thank you for establishing housing for our people and for fighting for our people to be paid for work done. Thank you for fighting for our people to find their way home, and thank you for fighting against more damage to our family structures.
Thank you for surviving and thriving and showing us how it is done.
Thank you for raising the generations that have given birth to the staunch youth who shut down cities to send a message for our people.
All that we have and all that we are is because you refused to lay down. You refused to give up and you have personified the graceful struggle that is our people.
Our Elders have ensured the survival of culture, language, ceremony and hope. Where there is culture — there is hope for our continue survival.
Thank you for your tireless work in maintaining songlines, ceremony and language.
There is a wealth of Indigenous Elders we are fortunate to learn from.
Uncle Bruce Pascoe, Bunarung Author who wrote Dark Emu: Black Seeds – Agriculture or Accident? and dispelled the myth of our ‘simple’ culture when he explored the writings and paintings of early colonialists. Uncle Bruce deconstructed portrayals of Indigenous life and to examine the agricultural and scientific discoveries of our ancestors — who were far from the 'hunter-gatherers', which mainstream education depicts. He has had a varied career has spanned teaching, farming, bar-tending, working on an archaeological site, lecturing, researching Aboriginal languages as well as writing. Uncle Bruce has lead by example and inspired our generation to see the magic and intelligence of our way in preserving our land, community and culture.
Wiradjuri woman, activist and staunch advocate for our rights Jenny Munro is an Elder we need to give thanks to, for she has done the hard yards. She has fought for decades to redress the inequity experiences in our communities. Aunt Jenny helped established the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy to advocate for housing for the Indigenous families forces from The Block throughout the gentrification of the neighbourhood.
Wiradjuri mental health advocate and former professional athlete, Joe Williams, honours, who he describes as, "a beautiful humble man that has been instrumental in the reintroduction of the Wiradjuri language."
Joe says language is one of the key cornerstones in reclaiming our identity as Wiradjuri, First Nations people and Wiradjuri Elder and language preserver, Uncle Stan Grant Snr, has been recognised for his tremendous work in educating our children and in ensuring the Wiradjuri language’s survival.
Uncle Stan has been pivotal in the establishment of the relatively new Graduate Certificate in Wiradjuri Language, Culture and Heritage program at Charles Sturt University and was named a Member of the Order of Australia on in 2009 for service to Indigenous education and the preservation and promotion of the Wiradjuri language and culture, as a teacher and author, and to youth. He was granted an honorary Doctorate of Letters by Charles Sturt University in 2013 in recognition of his work with community.
Victorian Senator, Lidia Thorpe, gives thanks today for her inspiring Grandmother, a Gunditjmara woman who helped build community-run health and social services that bring real benefits to Aboriginal communities in Victoria and around Australia.
Aunty Alma Thorpe helped establish the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service (VAHS) in an old building in Fitzroy's Gertrude Street in 1973. Right across Australia, Alma helped roll out Indigenous-run health programs as a member of the National Aboriginal and Islander Health Organisation (NAIHO), a peak body established in 1976.
She has held positions on various influential committees, including the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO), and lobbied government at state and federal level. Her involvement with the VAHS continued — she became chairperson and served on the Funeral Service Committee. She was also a member of the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service and made a life member of the Aborigines Advancement League. All this she did without pay. Her remuneration was in seeing her people pull together and make change happen.
This International Day of Older Persons, we hope you will share your stories with us using the hashtag #IndigenousElders and join the conversation in honouring all of our Elders.
The United Nations International Day of Older Persons is on 1 October.
Natalie Cromb is a Gamilaroi writer, Indigenous affairs editor of Independent Australia, social justice activist, legal professional and mother. Follow Natalie @NatalieCromb
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