Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

ADJOURNMENT - International Year of Indigenous Languages

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (20:12): 2019 has been determined as the International Year of Indigenous Languages. This gives us an opportunity both here and across the world to celebrate and engage in conversations about Indigenous languages and the fact that 90 per cent of Indigenous languages around the world are considered endangered. It's through language that we communicate with the world, define our identity, express our history and our culture, learn, defend our human rights and participate in all aspects of society. Through language people preserve their community's history, customs and traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking, meaning and expression. They also use it to construct their futures. Language is pivotal and essential in the areas of human rights protection and good governance, peace building, reconciliation and sustainable development. All of these are key to the 2030 agenda. Our focus this year is in terms of Indigenous languages, but it fits into this continuing conversation across the world about our culture, our unity and our future.

A person's right to use his or her chosen language is a prerequisite for freedom of thought, opinion and expression, access to education and information, employment, building inclusive societies and the values that we've enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Many of us take it for granted that we can conduct our lives in our home languages without any constraints or prejudice. But this is simply not the case for everyone.

Of the almost 7,000 existing languages across the world, the majority have been created and spoken by indigenous peoples, who represent the greater part of the world's cultural diversity. Yet it's been identified that many of these languages are disappearing at an alarming rate, as the communities speaking them are confronted with forced assimilation, enforced relocation, educational disadvantage, poverty, illiteracy, migration and other forms of discrimination and human rights violations. This is certainly true in our own country, where we have an opportunity this year, with great support, to celebrate Indigenous languages. In Australia, we know that our history has been cruel to First Nations languages. In fact, the research that has been done indicates that the danger to Indigenous languages continues to be very severe in our nation. The elders, who have been the protectors of the language, need to have our absolute support so that we can protect the beauty, the integrity and the future of Indigenous languages in Australia.

AIATSIS, the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, has been maintaining Aboriginal language documentation since 1964. It's clearly a national leader in the collection, documentation, preservation, research and essential revival of Australian Indigenous languages. There are surveys done to look at what's happening with Indigenous languages in Australia. There's a wonderful quote that is being celebrated this year as part of International Year of Indigenous Languages, by Brooke Joy, a descendant of the Boandik people from the Mount Gambier region in South Australia. Her comment about her own language was:

Strong cultural identity enables one to feel proud of themselves, and speaking and maintaining one's language raises self-esteem and enables one to feel good about themselves. Traditional language is important for maintaining strong cultural connections. Where traditional languages have been taken away from communities, a sense of loss, grief and inadequacy develops. To keep communities and generations strong, traditional language being passed from one generation to another is vital.

One of the absolute joys that I've had since I've been in this place is my work on the National Library Council-that absolute treasure of our nation which exists three blocks away from Parliament House. In this International Year of Indigenous Languages, the National Library is working closely with AIATSIS to examine issues around Indigenous languages in our nation. The first official event for the year's celebrations is the launch of a wonderful book, Ngana Ngai, or Who am I? I apologise, in using a native language, that I probably have just destroyed the pronunciation of the name of this wonderful book, but I had the chance to look at the book last week. It's an engaging paperback book for young children and it's being published this month to celebrate the year. The book introduces young readers both to native animals and the concept of Indigenous language, in this case the Kaurna language from South Australia. Through this book, everybody-not just children but everybody-has the opportunity to learn the words for animals such as parrot, wombat, kangaroo, cockatoo and echidna and discover a simple fact about each animal. Excitingly, Australian Standing Orders Scholastic, a book distributor to the education sector, has purchased 1,000 copies of the book, which means it will be distributed to schools throughout the country as well as being sold in bookshops across Australia and New Zealand. It is an essential element of the celebrations of our year that we engage with children so that they can learn about the beauty of Australian First Nations languages and also feel confident and proud to use these languages and, as Brooke said, understand the value of culture.

Throughout the year, there will be many exhibitions, and many activities and calendars of events will be put up across the country. The Department of Communications and the Arts is the relevant department which is organising this. Also, we have very active engagement at the national level and internationally. People may know that recently the wonderful ,i>Cook and the Pacific exhibit closed at the National Library. One of the core elements of that exhibit was looking at native languages. As Cook travelled around the Pacific, he and the other people onboard ship took amazing records and actually kept records of Pacific languages as they were moving around. These treasures were available when people went to see the exhibit at the National Library.

The closing event of the Cook and the Pacific exhibition marked the commencement of the Year of Indigenous Languages. Last weekend, Language Keepers: Preserving Indigenous Languages was a forum which focused on the word lists recorded on Cook's three Pacific voyages. These have become invaluable sources for historians and First Nations people. Over the weekend, experts in Australia and the Pacific discussed how the revitalisation of Indigenous languages is supporting practice and healing, and also focused clearly on the role of libraries and archives to support language restoration.

We have opportunities through this year to learn, to enjoy, to celebrate. We are part not just of this opportunity in Australia but also of the international discussions. As I said, the loss of the native languages across our country has meant the loss of identity. The library also has plans for improving access to the existing language collections through the year, particularly through digitisation and consultation and by working closely with AIATSIS to ensure that people across this nation will be able to preserve and understand original product written in First Nations language by talking to elders, talking with people who research in this area to maintain the exquisite and quite wonderful tonal native elements of First Nations language. This is an important time for all of us. I think we need to learn, we need to engage in this process and we need to understand that, working together, we can preserve language and then, through that, preserve culture.