How Is Reconciliation Week Being Celebrated During COVID?

A week of events spent with brothers and sisters, aunties and uncles. Festivals, workshops, gatherings and learnings.

A time to share Indigenous culture with the rest of Australia. A date in the calendar dedicated to nurturing relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians.

This is what National Reconciliation Week (NRW) has been about for the past two decades.

And while COVID-19 means community events have been cancelled, the key purposes of NRW remain the same, even if the celebration looks different.

“It’s a great time to share our culture with non-Aboriginal people and educate others about the importance of our culture and its central role in Australian society,” Dr Andrew Peters, senior lecturer in Indigenous Studies and Tourism at Swinburne University told HuffPost Australia.

So what is the history and how can you get involved this year?

Here’s what you need to know:

What Is Reconciliation Week?

Starting on Wednesday May 27, NRW will mark 20 years since 250,000 Australians walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge and bridges in other cities around the country, to ‘bridge the gap’ between Indigenous Australians and non-Indigenous Australians.

Dr Peters, who is a proud Wurundjeri and Yorta Yorta man, said it’s an important event all Aussies should know about.

“We’re all on Aboriginal land, and it all contains story and history that we can all connect to. This isn’t a culture that was imported – it’s been a part of this land from the beginning,” he explained.

“It belongs to the land we now call Australia, so all of us are connected to it today.”

It’s important to know that the next chapter of Australia’s history can only happen if we understand the truth of our past and while many of these truths are hard to accept, many are stories of resilience, triumph and Indigenous excellence.

“There are some terrible parts of our history, but far more wonderful parts that shape who we are today. Reconciliation Week is a great time for Australians to start, continue, or strengthen their own journey of learning that the world’s oldest living culture is right here, and a part of us all. I think if all Australians look at the land as something to work with, and not on, these connections can start for anyone.”

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 13: An earth oven is dug up at Hyde Park on July 13, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. NAIDOC Week celebrations are held across Australia each year to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. NAIDOC is celebrated not only in Indigenous communities, but by Australians from all walks of life. (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – JULY 13: An earth oven is dug up at Hyde Park on July 13, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. NAIDOC Week celebrations are held across Australia each year to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. NAIDOC is celebrated not only in Indigenous communities, but by Australians from all walks of life. (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)

How Will We Celebrate Amid COVID-19?

You can still be involved in Reconciliation Week even in a pandemic, NITV host Karla Grant told HuffPost Australia.

“While we can’t have the huge gatherings and events that we’d otherwise have during this week, we can still take part and get behind the many digital offerings happening online,” she said.

“We can find other ways of educating, creating greater awareness and understanding about the plight of Indigenous Australians and how we can all unite and work together as a nation to improve the lives of our First Peoples.”

Starting Monday and through until Mabo Day on June 3, NITV has a dedicated slate of coverage to celebrate Reconciliation Week 2020 including special episodes of The Point and Living Black which will explore how, 20 years on, COVID-19 has brought a new dimension to the event.

“As this year’s National Reconciliation Week theme says, we are In this together,” said Reconciliation Australia’s Chief Executive Officer, Karen Mundine.

“That theme is resonating now in ways we could not have foreseen but it reminds us whether in a crisis or in reconciliation, we are all in this together!”

How Can I Get More Involved?

“We are launching the week on Wednesday 27 May by asking everyone to take to social media to Acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the Country they are on – a way we can all be in this together while being apart,” Mundine said.

“The reconciliation bridge walks marked a shift in our national consciousness and 20 years later more than 90% of Australians now support reconciliation, with 80% believing in the importance of formal truth telling processes.”

Mundine has curated a list of 20 Ways To Be In This Together, including watching a Facebook Live panel discussion about the 2000 bridge walks for reconciliation on the Reconciliation Australia Facebook page and ABC Facebook pages from 12pm Thursday May 28 and tuning into a live gig ‘In Concert Together’ hosted by Christine Anu from 9pm Friday May 29.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 13: Artworks painted by children on the day are displayed at Hyde Park on July 13, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. NAIDOC Week celebrations are held across Australia each year to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. NAIDOC is celebrated not only in Indigenous communities, but by Australians from all walks of life. (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – JULY 13: Artworks painted by children on the day are displayed at Hyde Park on July 13, 2019 in Sydney, Australia. NAIDOC Week celebrations are held across Australia each year to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. NAIDOC is celebrated not only in Indigenous communities, but by Australians from all walks of life. (Photo by Jenny Evans/Getty Images)

Learning From The Couch

Life in lockdown has meant we have embraced our streaming services more than ever. There are multiple movies, documentaries and TV series that shine a light on both the trauma and mistreatment of Indigenous Australians but also the resilience, strength and excellence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Check out the Reconciliation Film Club or stream titles like Warwick Thornton’s The Beach, Milpirri – Winds of Change, Fantome Island, Willandra Wisdom Walk, Utopia, Vote Yes for Aborigines, When the River Runs Dry, Treetime Stories, Bamay, Thalu and Songlines on SBS on Demand.

How To Deal With Racist Denials At This Time

Australia has created a disconnected society that can be quite “selfish and insular”, Dr Peters said.

It’s times like Survival Day and Reconciliation Week that Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians hear dismissive reactions from the wider community. A “why should I be sorry?” from a mate at the pub or a “I didn’t do anything” post from a long lost aunty on Facebook.

“My response to comments like this is to try and get people to find a connection – more and more, Australians are (rightly) celebrating ANZAC Day as in important part of our history, yet none of us were there,” Dr Peters explained.

“Acknowledging the past mistreatment of Aboriginal people, to me, isn’t about ‘taking the blame’ – it’s about recognising and learning to create a better present and future. Teaching and learning in any setting is a two-way journey, and so acknowledging our past is a two-way journey of recognition and acceptance.”

To do these things, Dr King reiterated that people need to “feel connected to that past,” try to understand it, and move forward together.

“As Australians, it’s part of all of us, part of our history. Denying it is simply denying ourselves and who we are.”

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