For all those still in Love, with ART.


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In the debate about bridging the gap, very few of our leaders have latched onto the important role that language plays. Language is absolutely vital and is the key to improving all aspects of Indigenous disadvantage. Let me explain why. Language is the conveyor of culture Through culture, we add meaning to things based on symbols. When language disappears our symbols go with it leaving a group of people searching for symbolic meaning. These symbols are what we identify ourselves with. Without these symbols we are, to an extent, lost. But people who look, sound and behave differently to others know they must find meaning so they look for replacement symbols. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people these symbols have too often become alcohol, drugs, violence and crime. Alternatively, when people cannot relate to those negative symbols they often become depressed, lack confidence, develop low levels of self-esteem and motivation which can lead to suicide. So why do people choose a life of binge drinking?Traditional life is governed by symbols that have rules, responsibilities and obligations attached.For example, at ceremony many of us know our roles based on the skin group going through the ceremony. I play different roles depending on whether my brothers, my nephews, brother in laws and others are involved. Symbols mean everything in traditional culture and even determine the language we can speak and how we speak it. To a tourist the symbol of a ‘kangaroo’ has come to be attached to the idea of Australia Australians, however, might see the ‘kangaroo’ as the symbol representing our national emblem. In traditional life ‘kangaroo’ means ‘boss’, ‘life’ and also ‘food’.The attraction to binge drinking is quite simple: It is a replacement symbol for people who have lost these and other symbols which attach them to a cultural life. A life of binge drinking has no rules, no commitments, no responsibilities and no obligation. It’s a form of escape that requires simple attachment. The attachment symbol is alcohol itself. The binge drinker themselves also act as a symbol, which identifies to others an individual who is not attached to society. Therefore, we cannot attach any responsbility, trust, or obligations upon them. But what about those Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and their families who are not affected by those negative influences and are able to remain strong, proud and resilent? They all have common traits. The language they use is different to dysfunctional families and binge drinkers, whether it be a traditional language, Kriol or Aboriginal English. These families who face adversity, dysfunction and hardship on a regular basis continue to achieve. We all know families like this. Their kids are mostly healthy; their homes are well maintained and they remain employed. But why do they continue to achieve when many of those who surround them often don’t? Why does this difference often transfer over to the children they care for? I believe the answer lies in the way they use language to create symbolic meaning. For me, bridging the gap starts at the home. Therefore, we need to carefully look at these strong familes and learn from them. If what they do can be replicated or transferred to other families who are not doing as well, then surely we are half way there in bridging the gap. As Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people we often hear that there’s a bigger picture outside the Indigenous bubble, but in my opinion the same applies to mainstream Australia. A perfect example is in relation to Australia’s Indigenous languages. In other parts or the world, countries are realising the need to recognise their Indigenous languages.These countries and regions include Europe, North and South America, Africa and Asia. Every single continent around the world and many of the countries within have moved to formally recognise their Indigenous language(s), except the continent called “Australia”. On the international Indigenous language stage, Australia stands at the rear. I call on all Australians to remember that Indigenous issues, including languages, are part of an even bigger picture. My message to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders, the wider Australian public, our politicians and the business community is to help us preserve, maintain, protect and promote our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages before they are lost forever. 2008 was the International Year of Languages and in that same year Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered an apology and gave the Asian Languages in Schools Program over $62 million. Our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages got less than half of that. 101 in bridging the gap is formally recognising our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages. Please help us by becoming a member of FATSIL, donating money or simply discussing these issues with others.

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