Our Land Our Languages

June 3, 2013

Our Land, Our Languages: Language Learning in Indigenous Communities is the report from the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. The report and its recommendations are endorsed by our Synod’s Coordinating Support for Indigenous Scriptures (CSIS). The report summary contains a great quote from Yurranydjil Dhurrkay, language advisor based at Galiwin’ku, North East Arnhem Land, as well as the address for accessing the full report.

The Standing Committee was asked to inquire into and report on Indigenous languages in Australia and began its work in July 2011. The Standing Committee particularly focused on the benefits of giving attention and recognition to Indigenous languages; the contribution Indigenous languages makes to Closing the Gap and strengthening Indigenous identity and culture; the potential benefits of including Indigenous languages in early education; and what measures may be taken to improve Indigenous language interpreting and translating services.

The Standing Committee received 154 submissions from a variety of sources, including Commonwealth, state and territory government departments, Indigenous representative organisations, land councils, Indigenous media organisations, language centres, linguists and a range of other academics, and many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and individuals, including CSIS.

The Standing Committee found that language is inseparable from culture, kinship, land and family and is the foundation upon which the capacity to learn, interact and to shape identity is built. The Committee consistently heard that the key to developing competency in Standard Australia English was for the child to be taught bilingually, with the first language used as the basis for learning in the earliest years.

The Standing Committee made 30 recommendations to the government and these recommendations, as well as a list of submissions, public hearings and transcripts of evidence can be accessed at: www.aph.gov.au/languages.

The quote from Yurranydjil Dhurrkay referenced in the report was: Our language is like a pearl inside a shell. The shell is like the people that carry the language. If our language is taken away, then that would be like a pearl that is gone. We would be like an empty oyster shell.