Tuesday 9 August 2011

Whether it’s learning a song in the local language, acknowledging the personal story and rich cultural history behind a painting, or learning from Indigenous Australians how to care for country, today’s International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples should remind us of the resilience and beauty to be found within the culture and stories of our first peoples, Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda said today.

Commissioner Gooda said this year’s theme of ‘Indigenous designs: celebrating stories and cultures, crafting our own future’, was backed up by Article11 of the United Nation’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which acknowledges the right of Indigenous peoples to practice and revitalise their cultural traditions and customs.

“We know that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ culture is the oldest continuing culture in human history. It is a culture which contains valuable knowledge and is steeped in respect for country, clan and family,” Commissioner Gooda said.

He said there are many ways in which the designs, stories and culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples could enrich us all.

“The West Arnhem Land Fire Abatement project is one such example, where traditional fire management regimes have been reintroduced and have reduced the total area of country burnt as a result of wild fires, leading to reduced greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

“Valuing cultural heritage means we can be open to learning from communities like Utopia in Central Australia where hunting bush tucker and retaining cultural traditions has been credited with delivering mortality rates for its residents that are nearly 50 per cent lower than the Northern Territory average for Aboriginal adults, for example.”

He said protection of Indigenous cultural heritage and intellectual property also remained a live topic amongst Aboriginal artists and communities.

“Behind each painting, each dance, and each piece of music, there is a personal story. But we will not be able to continue to enjoy this precious knowledge and culture if we are not in a position to maintain and protect it,” he said.

“We must insist on an intellectual property regime that recognises and enforces the right of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to determine the nature and extent to which their cultural expression and heritage is used,” he said.

Commissioner Gooda also used the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples to urge action to stem the tide of destruction in relation to Indigenous languages.

“Of the estimated 145 Indigenous languages still spoken in Australia, 110 are critically endangered. All of Australia’s Indigenous languages face an uncertain future if immediate action and care are not taken,” he said.

“International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples provides all Australians with an opportunity to enjoy and participate in our ancient culture which forms part of our nation.”

International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples marks the day of the first meeting, in 1982, of the UN Working Group on Indigenous Populations.

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Media contact: Louise McDermott (02) 9284 9851 or 0419 258 597