Indigenous leaders gathered at the Australian Human Rights Commission this week to welcome June Oscar as the nation’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner
They were joined by Commission President Gillian Triggs, other Commissioners, staff, friends and colleagues. Among them were advocate and community worker Shireen Malamoo; the CEO of the Mudgingal Aboriginal Women’s Centre, Jenny Munro; the chair of the Lowitja Institute, Pat Anderson; and Jackie Huggins, co-chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples.
Ann Weldon from the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council provided the Welcome to Country, followed by speeches from Professor Triggs and Jenny Munro.
“June has held a raft of influential positions including deputy director of the Kimberley Land Council, chair of the Kimberley Language Resource Centre and the Kimberley Interpreting Service and Chief Investigator with Western Australia’s Lililwan Project addressing Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD),” Professor Triggs said.
“I am aware that June is an exceptional woman and will bring unique expertise and perspectives to her role as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner.
“June’s appointment as the first Aboriginal woman in this role is testament of her professional, community and international advocacy for the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”
As part of her welcome to country, Ms Weldon described Commissioner Oscar as “a remarkable Aboriginal leader” who had empowered many Aboriginal women and who had helped focus attention on the needs of Indigenous children.
“She took on the challenge [of restricting alcohol sales in Western Australia’s Fitzroy Valley], even if it meant she would stand alone. She upset businesses and members of her own extended family once she began the tough work of securing alcohol restrictions in Fitzroy Valley in 2007.
“Courageously, June succeeded. No doubt she will be taking on far greater challenges in the position she now has.”
Commissioner Oscar replied in her first language, Bunuba, and then in English.
“Jalangurru lanygu balanggarri,
Ngayini nyanyjili, Bunuba nhingi, ngayini dawangarri Warangarri.u muwayi.
Ngindaji ngarragi ganinyi ngarri thangani – Bunuba, wilalangira yaningi. Winyiwunggurragi,
Jalangurru thangani ngarragi yani ingga yunggawurragi yaningi.
“Yathawungayi ngindaji yuwa muwayi 5 years, ngarragi jandu yani wadbiwirragali nginyjara yarra, jalangurru yathawarra yingirri yani ngarri, nganggi yuwa muwayi.
“Good afternoon everyone, I am Nyanyjili, that’s my skin name. I come from the Bunuba people, and Warangarri, my traditional lands in the Fitzroy Valley.
“I speak to you in my first language, Bunuba. This is the language you’re hearing.
“I bring the well wishes of my community to you today.
“I will make my home here on your lands for five years, where I hope my family can come sometime and they too will respect your people and your lands.
“I am excited to be working alongside such an amazing team at the Human Rights Commission and the amazing leaders across our communities and organisations.
“Together with communities, government and the Australian people, we hope to effect change in the life situations for families and communities across our nation.”
Commissioner Oscar said she is honoured to take on the role of Social Justice Commissioner and acknowledged the “many strong leaders, and many strong women” who have advocated for Indigenous justice.
“Indigenous Australian stories are the stories of this nation,” she said.
“We need to honour the real narratives of this country, the many voices of this country, and the many histories of this country. We will get there, we will tell those stories.”
Photo: Indigenous advocate Shireen Malamoo with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, June Oscar.