The 2023 NAIDOC theme ‘For Our Elders’ acknowledges the incredible role that Elders play in the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and Communities.
For many First Nations peoples, Elders are tasked with passing down cultural knowledge and guidance. Many First Nations Elders are Survivors of the Stolen Generations, advocate for social justice and human rights, and have passed on thousands of generations worth of knowledge and culture to the younger ones today.
For the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF), Elders have guided the stories that we help publish and are the backbone of the Communities we work with.
Elders in remote Communities are the knowledge holders of cultural practices that have existed on these lands for thousands of generations. Being strong in one’s culture and language is the aspiration of our Elders, both past and present. Whether it is through our Book Supply, Book Buzz, or Community Publishing, the work of the ILF would not be possible without the expertise and care that Elders have for their Communities.
Ngarukuruwala Women’s Group from the Tiwi Islands. Photo: Tiffany Parker.
Remote Indigenous Communities have the knowledge and expertise about how to create strong futures for their children but sometimes lack the resources necessary. That is how the ILF supports Communities with resources to teach children, so their stories and cultures can be passed on to the next generations.
Bobbi Lockyer’s artwork
The 2023 NAIDOC poster is designed by Ngarluma, Kariyarra, Nyulnyul and Yawuru artist Bobbi Lockyer.
The 2023 NAIDOC poster by Bobbi Lockyer.
“Our Elders are the foundation of our Communities and role models for our children. With this poster I wanted to showcase how important our Elders are in passing down traditions and culture to our children and future,” says Bobbi.
Murli la: Songs and Stories of the Tiwi Islands
Written by the Ngarukuruwala Women’s Group from the Tiwi Islands and Dr Genevieve Campbell, Murli la is a beautifully designed book that celebrates the culture of the Tiwi Islands through song.
The songs presented in this book hold cultural, genealogical, geographical and spiritual knowledge that has been passed down through thousands of years of Tiwi storytelling, ceremony and in the songlines that circle the islands. There is also a QR code so that you can listen to the songs in language while you read.
The book on Country in the Tiwi Islands.
The Ngarukuruwala Women’s Group have been sisters and friends all their lives. As young women, they composed songs to pass on the stories of their islands, culture and ancestors.
As Elders and mentors in their Community, these women draw on the old ways of Tiwi song traditions to help young Tiwi people connect with their language and cultural identity.
Murli la comes from the knowledge and wisdom of the Tiwi Elders and honours them because it encapsulates, in a written and visual format, what they wish for the young people to learn.
Celebrations at the launch.
“I reckon it’s a wonderful thing to do this, to show our children, to know and sing well in their Tiwi language. We know they can speak in English, but in two languages. English and Tiwi,” says Tiwi Elder Mary.
“I think it is wonderful. The presentation today will be real best for our younger women to look at the older people, you know, singing and dancing, and it’s all about this book,” says Tiwi Elder Elaine.
We Look, We Find
One of ILF’s newest titles, We Look, We Find, was written and illustrated by the Napranum Community in Cape York, Queensland. The story explores the importance of being on Country with Elders and is the first time Thaynakwith language has ever been commercially published in a book.
We Look, We Find in Napranum.
This book was guided by the expertise of Community Elder Thanakupi, who created the book Thanakupi's Guide to Language and Culture.
Thanakupi was a renowned ceramic artist, educator, linguist and Elder of the Napranum Community that helped establish the first preschool and was one of the first preschool teachers in Napranum.
She was the last fluent speaker of Thaynakwith and spent much time documenting and passing down knowledge for the next generation.
Thanakupi’s passion and teachings significantly influenced We Look, We Find, and it is the hope of the Napranum Community that this book will help to keep her legacy alive.
“As a proud Indigenous woman, Thanakupi taught the Community that language is a part of you, and you should be proud of that,” said Trish, a Director of the Napranum PaL Group.
Thanakupi’s photo and book displayed at the We Look, We Find launch in Napranum.
“With the kids, learning language is their cultural right. It is their heritage to be exposed to their language and to know their language. If it is not spoken regularly, it then becomes lost. So to keep that language alive and practised in children's books is one of the best ways to get it out there.”
Many other ILF titles also exist as a result of the work of Community Elders.
Winthali is a traditional Bunuba story that has been adapted into a children’s book by Elder Joe Ross and Stacey Bush. Country Tells Us When… passes on Yawuru knowledge of Elders about the seasonal changes of the Kimberley. Jarrampa shares the ways that Elders hunt cherabin, while Purlka ngamaji Kakaji teaches the importance of not hunting the Mummy Goanna so that the species survives.
The work of Elders in storytelling allows children to see their culture, language, and family reflected in books, increasing confidence and literacy.
What does this theme mean to you?
Kamilaroi and Dunghutti woman and ILF’s Book Buzz Manager, Jolene, loves this year’s NAIDOC theme.
The Book Buzz program works with remote Community playgroups and helps to develop familiarity with books for children under five. Through the resources provided by ILF, children learn to navigate books, how to hold them, how to move through a story, and the resources help children connect with stories through play-based learning.
“There is a significant influence of Elders in the playgroups we work with. Especially with the Book Buzz program, it is a way for the Elders to still be connected to the younger generation,” explains Jolene.
A Book Buzz playgroup in Broome. Photo: Wayne Quilliam
Jolene believes that Book Buzz is a great way to give back to Communities as well.
“The way that Book Buzz is designed, it involves parents, Community members and the Elders, so it is a beautiful way for grandparents or Elders to connect with the younger generation in an environment that supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander learning. A lot of these playgroups go out on Country; they connect in a way that is not possible when you are in a classroom. So I think it is a beautiful way to support the Elders, which makes me very proud.”
Working with Elders through her work is an honour for Jolene.
“A lot of people in my life who would have been Elders have passed away. So when I work with Community I imagine that the Elders in my life, my ancestors, would be very proud of the work that I am doing.”
“My mobs are in NSW, so it is also beautiful the work we do because we become so close with the Community members; we connect in a way that I personally would not have been able to outside of my work with the ILF. So it’s gaining a broader Community as well, not just a Community within your own culture.”
Cindy is a proud Jingili, Mudburra and Mangarrayi woman and one of ILF’s Publishing Projects Editors.
“I have a lot of Elders and a lot of Matriarchs that I look up to that have paved the way for the next generations. I really love this theme because our Elders deserve to be celebrated. We need to appreciate them as they are the ones who have been doing all the heavy lifting for us to get to where we are now, and we need to make sure we listen to them and pass on their knowledge. That is our obligation,” says Cindy.
Over the past seven years that Cindy has been working for the ILF, she has seen the vast roles Elders play in their Communities. They usually are the ones keeping the younger generation in line and supporting them whenever they can.
The ILF is able to have such a great reach because of the relationships we have developed with Elders. “The Elders in the Communities we work with are very well respected. They are the key knowledge holders when we are creating or translating books into the languages they choose. They are the ones we look for when we need help, and we never forget how valuable they are to us in the work that we do.”
Cindy believes that it is essential to acknowledge the incredible contributions of our Elders not just this NAIDOC Week but every day.
“We have lost way too many Elders in my family and sometimes you don't realise how important they are to your life until they are gone. That is why we should be acknowledging them every day and not just for this theme. They are the warriors, and we must carry that strength from them.”
You might also be interested in
What to know about National Reconciliation Week
First Commercial Children’s Picture Book Published featuring Thaynakwith Language
Launching Murli la in the Tiwi Islands
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Written by Ella Schofield.