EDITORIAL: Indigenous languages should have a voice in education

Language is what sets Australia apart from the rest of the world.

There were more than 250 language groups in Australia before Europeans, now less than half of those are spoken, and more are disappearing.

That equates to almost a language vanishing every two years.

While our accent is thought of as endearing by other English speakers, it’s Australia’s first languages that make us unique, and offer a knowledge we can share with the entire world.

The language of the Djiringanj people of the Bega Valley is being rejuvenated through the hard work of researchers who have never stopped loving their culture despite every effort to disconnect them from their history.

When children were taken from their families, it meant parents and grandparents couldn’t pass down their language to the next generation, and language as we know is important for every culture on the planet.

Kidnappings, massacres, and punishment for speaking languages have all attempted to destroy language in many occupied lands, but things are slowly changing.

Australians in many communities are seeking to learn more about their language, and to ensure they are passed on to the next generation before it is too late.

It is proven children who learn their mother tongue are healthier, learn more, and language renewal strengthens communities. Given this understanding you would think it would be a no-brainer to have the community embrace its original language and hopefully in the future share words from it as they pass each other in the street.

Over the years researchers have ignored or left out the Djiringanj from their work, further confusing non-Indigenous Australia’s understanding of the Bega Valley’s original people. People of all ages are hungry to learn and understand more of the Djiringanj culture.

Tourists travel from as far as Melbourne and Sydney over the summer holidays to take part in cultural exchanges in our national parks, and the feeling at this year’s NAIDOC Week celebrations was there should be programs initiated in our schools.

Following a move by the NSW government late last year to introduce legislation to recognise and protect Indigenous languages, there was concern control would not be put in the hands of elders.

Elders must be consulted as language is rejuvenated, so we can grow together and create a better future for each other.