What started as a small ceremony in Victoria recognising fallen Indigenous soldiers has now become a nation-wide Reconciliation Week event.
By
Madeline Hayman-Reber

Source:
NITV News
31 May 2019 - 6:40 PM  UPDATED 31 May 2019 - 6:41 PM

Aunty Dot Peters has been the driving force behind what is now almost an Australia-wide event recognising the work Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicemen and women have done for Australia.

The Victorian Aboriginal Remembrance Service began as a small ceremony in 2006 to counteract a long history of racial discrimination and prejudice experienced by Aboriginal servicemen and women in the armed forces.

"When I heard those stories, I thought something needs to be done about this," Aunty Dot told NITV News. "so I approached the RSL and asked them to become involved for Reconciliation Week."

Now, 13-years on, hundreds of people gather at war memorials in capital cities across the country on the Friday of Reconciliation Week to pay tribute to the most unrecognised of the defence force's servicemen and women.

This year's Victorian service saw dignitaries such as Aunty Dot Peters, Victorian Indigenous Affairs Minister Gavin Jennings, and federal Member for Cooper, Ged Kearney join the growing number of people attending the event.

Speaking at the event, Mr Jennings said many Aboriginal servicemen and women had made great sacrifices for the nation and too often their contributions went unrecognised.

"Dot Peters and those who have done work in the Victorian Remembrance Committee have actually been dedicated for 14 years to start correcting that story," said Mr Jennings

But Aunty Dot said the event was more than about recognising the sacrifices of Aboriginal servicemen and women in the past: it's also about recognising the bravery of those who serve today.

"I think it makes them feel like they belong to Australia. Some of them felt they didn't. To fight for their country is something that they love to do," Aunty Dot said.

Guest speaker Private Kirra Grimes said the ceremony was important as it recognised the sacrifices of our old people and set an example for a younger generation of our Defence Force personnel

"We're the new generation, we're the ones who are going to promote cultural changes. Not only within the Defence force, but throughout Australia by using the Army as a platform to be role models and to share our stories," Ms Grimes said.

"I think it's really important for the younger generation to have these opportunities because eventually we're going to be the older generation one day and it's good to set that foundation now, even for the next generation after us."

Aunty Dot Peters Award

A new award aimed to help Indigenous kids complete their schooling was announced during Friday's ceremony.

The Aunty Dot Peters Award will support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students living in Victoria to complete years 9 and 10.

Each year, two boys and two girls will be selected to receive bursaries of $5,000 each - $2,500 per year for two years.

"It has been a longstanding dream of mine to get this award up and running. As a former educator, I am proud to see an initiative like this that young Aboriginal people can strive for," Aunty Dot said.

"I want all Aboriginal people to be true to themselves and to remember it's important for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people to come together."

The first cohort of students will be selected from term 3, 2020.

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