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Australia’s First Nations people need healing – of our families, our lands and waters

As the First Nations people of this land, our country is the essence of who we are. Our peoples’ relationships with land and waters have been built over thousands of generations, connecting us to country by blood, spirit and place. We’ve lived through periods of great change. Knowledge of what we’ve experienced through these changes has been passed down through our families. We love our country. We’ve never stopped caring for our country. We fight for country every day.

Caring for country centres on a reciprocal relationship between First Nations people and their lands, waters, stars, animals, plants, stories and feelings. It sustains our life in every aspect and is grounded in the lores, customs and ways of life we have inherited from our ancestors.

Caring for country has been linked to a broad range of benefits that impact our health and wellbeing. But when country is sick, our people get sick. Healing country has a very deep meaning to our people because the damage to our country affects us on many levels. The destruction of land and heritage has had a great impact on our people’s health and wellbeing. It is all inter-connected.

It can be difficult for non-Indigenous people to understand our practices. It’s about respecting, revitalising and restoring our ancient traditions, knowledge systems and cultural practices to protect country.

My homelands at Boort in Dja Dja Wurrung country is home to my Yung Balug family clan and has the largest collection of scar trees in Australia. Even though we are proud of these remnants of our cultural heritage, we feel powerless to look after them. This only adds to the ongoing trauma we experience as a result of colonisation and dispossession.

While there has been a move in some states to give local communities a greater role in decision making about development that affects their heritage, the reality is our country continues to suffer harm and disrespect on a mammoth scale.

Cultural heritage protection policies for our First Nations people are not strong enough. Recently in western Victoria Djab Wurrung trees were cleared to expand a highway. Last year the destruction of the Juukan Gorge in the Pilbara by Rio Tinto shocked the world. In Australia, our land and our sacred sites are at risk. Despite governments proposing stronger Aboriginal heritage laws, it is inevitable that communities will continue to suffer immense hurt as a result of the relentless exploitation of our lands.

Across the country, climate change impacts are also being felt by our people and are predicted to become more severe.

This year the National Naidoc Committee imagined a theme truthful about the challenges we all face to protect our country and the future of our co-existence.

“Heal country!” calls for stronger measures to recognise, protect and maintain all aspects of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and heritage. Our country needs healing from the widespread destruction of our lands and water since colonisation, and the ongoing development and industry in this country.

Our people are being impacted spiritually, physically, culturally, economically and legally. To restore our nations and country we need more of our lands and waters back. We need healing – our nations, our people, our families, our children.

Truth telling and treaties are important elements to this. It will give us the rights to protect country. Everything that has happened to our people and country over many generations needs to be recognised and understood by the wider community. We need an awakening that acknowledges and respects the uniqueness of 60,000 years of Aboriginal custodianship of this land. This is what makes our country special. It has to be protected for future generations to ensure a healed and healthy country for all of us.

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