National Reconciliation Week is a focal point for attempts toward Indigenous Reconciliation, running from the 27th of May until the 3rd of June annually. These dates are significant milestones in the long-running fight for recognition, equality, and the acknowledgment of the past injustices inflicted on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
In the run-up to the referendum around the vote to bring the Indigenous Voice to Parliament, this commemorative and celebrative week is particularly significant, leading many organisations, communities, and businesses to think about their participation and what they are proactively doing to model inclusivity, accessibility, and parity.
What Happens During National Reconciliation Week?
Every year, National Reconciliation Week involves community events, conversations, and reflections centred on education, sharing, and uncovering ways for all Australians to contribute towards Reconciliation. Reflecting on the repercussions of assimilation policy and the long-standing impacts helps people to recognise and understand the lived experiences of decades of abuse and discrimination before legislation was finally changed following the 1967 referendum.
How did the assimilation policy affect the Indigenous communities around Australia? This governmental policy was the catalyst for the forced removal of children from First Nations families and the fracturing of societal groups and ties, stripping the rights and entitlements of countless Aboriginal people in an effort to delete their identities and belief systems.
Businesses can use National Reconciliation Week as a starting point to begin crafting a Reconciliation action plan to educate and inform, invite First Nations colleagues to share their experiences and ideas (should they wish to), and ensure all policies and practices are culturally sensitive and respectful.
What is a Reconciliation Action Plan? In short, this strategic policy sets out a framework for any organisation to contribute toward Reconciliation.
When Did National Reconciliation Week Begin?
The first National Reconciliation Week was held in 1996, organised by the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. Today, the event continues to run annually, now managed by a non-profit group called Reconciliation Australia.
Both the first and last day of National Reconciliation Week have been carefully selected for their relevance:
- 27th May 1967 was the date of the Australian referendum when more than 90% of those who chose to vote replied ‘yes’ to changing the constitution and removing discriminatory measures against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This outcome meant that Indigenous people were included in the national census and cemented a step-change in attitudes towards inhumane policies and laws.
- 3rd June 1992 signifies the date that the Australian High Court reached a decision in the case of Eddie Koiko Mabo, an activist, teacher, and artist. The court found that Indigenous Australians had land rights, paving the way for the 1993 Native Title Act.
Remembering these dates and their significance is essential, both acknowledging the tireless work and lifetime contributions made by activists, communities, and elders to make their voices heard and to fight against injustice, cruelty, and inequality.
While the 1967 referendum is a date for celebration, it is also a time of reflection on the lives lost, the families torn apart, and the generations who suffered so greatly during a time when the government, local officials, and the wider population were unwilling to listen.
What Should Organisations Do to Mark National Reconciliation Week?
There are a diverse array of events, activities, discussions, and displays held across National Reconciliation Week, and one of the most important ways to participate is to work toward a better understanding of the history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.
Efforts to support and facilitate conversations, listening, and understanding are pivotal, whether making a donation to a non-profit group such as Reconciliation Australia, holding cultural awareness training to drive a better understanding of cultural differences in the workplace, or attending community events.
Event organisers can invite Indigenous speakers and elders to share their stories, should they wish to, ensuring that attendees can challenge their beliefs or perceived knowledge and know how they can be better advocates for Reconciliation, mutual respect, and appreciation.
Storytelling, including through music, song, and dance, is an important part of Aboriginal culture. Events that are inspired by the origins of First Nations culture and feature the language of the many Indigenous dialects ensure these traditions are treasured, passed along to new generations, and shared with other Australians as part of the rich heritage of First Nations people.