The New South Wales Government has announced plans to legislate to protect and revitalise Aboriginal languages.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister Leslie Williams said Indigenous languages were a “unique and valuable part of our heritage” and legislation could benefit the community.
“We know that the Aboriginal Protection Board removed Aboriginal children from their families for speaking Aboriginal language,” she said.
“Consequently, mothers could not pass on their language to their children, fathers could not teach their children language and grandparents could not talk to their grandchildren in language.
“If legislation can so effectively take away Aboriginal language, so too it can restore and revive Aboriginal language.
“We know that Aboriginal people who speak their language are healthier, Aboriginal children learning a language do better at school and that language renewal strengthens communities.”
Among those who travelled from across the state to hear the announcement in Sydney today was Diane McNaboe, from the North West Wiradjuri Language and Culture Nest in Dubbo.
Ms McNaboe, who has more than 2,000 students enrolled in language classes across 19 schools in the Dubbo, Wellington, Mudgee, Peak Hill, Narromine, Trangie and Gilgandra areas, said the legislation was significant.
“It‘s a big thing, it’s like acknowledging that we exist and all these different language groups exist and nations within NSW,” she said.
“It’d be good to see it happen right across Australia, but NSW leading the way is really good.”
‘Good for the community, good for our identity’
Wiradjuri woman Lynette Riley made history in August when she sang in her language in Federal Parliament for her friend Linda Burney’s maiden speech.
She said the legislation will empower communities.
“It gives power to Aboriginal communities to do the programs that they’ve always wanted and it acknowledges that Aboriginal languages have always been here and that they now take their rightful place as Australian languages,” Ms Riley said.
Gary Williams, from the Muurrbay Aboriginal Language Centre at Nambucca Heads, teaches the Gumbaynggirr language and said the legislation was important for future generations.
Gary Williams, from the Muurrbay Aboriginal Language Centre, says the languages are good for Indigenous youth. ABC News: Lindy Kerin
“I’m getting on and it’s good to see the younger ones getting into the learning of languages,” he said.
Rod Towney, a Wiradjuri elder also from the Dubbo area, said the NSW legislation would bring many benefits.
“It’s not just about learning language and speaking language and writing language, it’s about instilling the cultural values in young people as well,” he said.
“And I’ve seen young people turned around because they’ve found a sort of niche in life that they want to do.”
Mr Towney said he hoped other states would also recognise the importance of first languages.
Wiradjuri elder Rod Towney says co-naming is taking place in the Dubbo area. ABC News: Lindy Kerin
“We hear about the Maori language and what they’re doing, all their co-naming — we do that around Dubbo now,” he said.
“When you fly into Dubbo you’re greeting in the local language and co-naming street names as well, that’s good.
“It’d good for us, it’s good for the community and it’s good for our identity.”
The legislation will be introduced to NSW parliament in 2017.
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- Lindy Kerin