The NAIDOC 2021 theme is Heal Country! and calls for all of us to continue to seek greater protections for our lands, our waters, our sacred sites and our cultural heritage from exploitation, desecration, and destruction.
Living on the continent of Australia for more than 60,000 years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have an incredibly strong connection to land, sea and waters, as their way of life is maintained by living in close relationship to the environment. The Dreamtime or the Dreaming, refers not only to the creation process, but also to the environment Aboriginal people live in, and always includes the significance of place. To Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, there are many places in the Australian environment such as Uluru that are equally as sacred as a church may be to someone of Catholic faith. Country is more than a place and inherent to the identity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live throughout Australia, and like other Australians lead diverse and varied lifestyles. Living in a city does not mean you are somehow less Aboriginal. In fact, most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people live in cities and towns, with 35 per cent living in major cities, and only 21 per cent living in remote areas. Aboriginality is not dictated by a postal address, a way of life or skin colour, but connection with community, culture and identity.
Aboriginality cannot be defined by skin colour or percentage of Aboriginal blood. It is also incredibly offensive to attempt to do so, as government departments used such policies for decades, and they proved to be inconsistent, unfair, and entrenched Aboriginal disadvantage. Aboriginality is connected with upbringing, culture, community, and identity, as well as descent. People who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander may be dark-skinned, light-skinned, blue-eyed, dark-haired and anything in between.
Today, it is generally accepted that an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person is a person of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent, who identifies as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander and is accepted as such by the community in which he or she lives.
Since colonisation, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have had many wrongs and abuses committed against them. For generations Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were removed from their families, denied citizenship rights in their own country, banned from travelling freely, punished for speaking their languages and denied access to education and health care. These events didn’t happen that long ago and the multiple effects of these traumas continue to play out in the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people today.
Caring for Country and spiritual connection to land and sea is intrinsic to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people's core values and way of life. Under the Native Title Act 1993, Traditional Owners have the right to hunt animals, including endangered turtles and dugongs. For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people animals hold special social and cultural value. Hunting these animals allows Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to maintain their cultural connections to land and sea country. This right is not unrestricted. Hunting must be done by Traditional Owners on their own country and for traditional purposes. Some Traditional Owners have chosen to restrict traditional hunting of endangered species in recognition of conservation concerns.
Melbourne Polytechnic’s Koorie Services Centre
Melbourne Polytechnic is committed to respecting and celebrating local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. We acknowledge the Kulin Nation Peoples’ traditional learnings and teachings, which occurred for thousands of years on the land where Melbourne Polytechnic’s campuses are now located. We pay respect to their Elders, past, present and emerging.
We believe in creating inclusive learning environments and opportunities for all. This includes advancing education opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The Koorie Services Centre is a place at Melbourne Polytechnic where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples can engage with their education and be supported and encouraged throughout their studies.
How we support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students
The Koorie Services Centre encourages and supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students by providing discounted fees, course advice, cultural support and information. We also run cross-cultural training, provide advice on cultural matters and can act as a delegate for staff, students and Aboriginal community organisations.