This NAIDOC Week We’re Celebrating Indigenous And Torres Strait Islander Women Driving Change

This NAIDOC Week We’re Celebrating Indigenous And Torres Strait Islander Women Driving Change

As leaders, trailblazers, politicians, activists and social change advocates, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women continue to fight for justice, equal rights, rights to country, law and policy, access to education, employment and to maintain and celebrate culture, language, music and art.

In 2018 the NAIDOC theme is Because Of Her, We Can — amplifying the achievements and the voices of Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander women. This week we had the opportunity to speak to leader and activist Edie Shepherd about her work, NAIDOC week and hosting a special edition of Feminism In The Pub (which was moved from its original pub venue to the Victorian Trades Hall to accomodate an overwhelming number of RSVPs).

Edie Shepherd

Can you tell me a little more about who you are and the work you do?

My name’s Edie and I’m a proud Wiradjuri and Ballardung woman whose lands include the Blue Mountains in NSW and Noongar country north-east of Perth. I come from an area of serpent dreaming, which can be seen in the deep clear lakes, swamps and freshwater rivers that run through country.

I’m the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organiser at the Victorian Trades Hall Council. For those of you who might not know, we’re the peak body for the trade union movement in Victoria. My work is pretty wide and varied, but aside from NAIDOC, I work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workers and communities to improve our rights at work.

A major campaign I’m working on is one to recover stolen wages for Koori Aboriginal people – not many people know about this part of history, but under a successive raft of legislation, Aboriginal workers had up to 4/5ths of their wages confiscated and held in ‘trusts’ by the government, never to be seen again. We know that some individuals are owed up to half a million dollars in today’s terms, and we believe that addressing this wrong will be nothing but beneficial to Aboriginal communities here in Victoria.

Last year I was the co-founder and national coordinator of Blackfullas for Marriage Equality, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arm of the national campaign to vote yes in the marriage equality postal survey.

NAIDOC week is right around the corner. For anyone who might not know, can you explain what NAIDOC week is and the theme for this year?

NAIDOC week is a national weeklong celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities’ culture, achievements and history. Standing for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee.

While today it’s a celebratory week, NAIDOC week’s roots are in protest for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s rights. 1938 saw the first Day of Mourning, held on January 26th, which became recognised as an annual day. Over time a single day of recognition in January became a full week in July and has since become the NAIDOC week that we know today.

The NAIDOC theme this year: Because of Her, We Can, is an incredibly special one. This year, we explicitly acknowledge and celebrate the role that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women play within our society.

For at least 65,000 years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have carried our dreaming stories, song lines, languages and knowledge that have kept our culture strong and enriched us as the oldest and longest continuous thread of human culture on the planet.

And we are here, right now, every day, in ways that almost defy definition. We are more than just your daughter, your sister, your auntie, your mother or your grandmother. We are militant, we are warriors and we shape First Nations and settler communities alike.

You’re hosting a special NAIDOC week edition of a regularly held event in Melbourne, Feminism In The Pub. What’s it all about?

Feminism in the Pub is an event that the women’s team here at Trades Hall put on every few months with topics changing each time. The idea is that by holding these events in a pub, it provides a far more relaxed and casual environment to have conversations that can sometimes otherwise be challenging.

Given that the theme for NAIDOC celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, my contribution to this brainchild was to combine forces to make the event bigger and better than ever!

Celeste Liddle, Edie Shepherd, Marayne Muller, Robin Oxley

Who’s going to be on the panel?

We had three deadly speakers lined up!

Celeste Liddle, an incredible union organiser, writer and militant Arrernte woman who is tireless in her activism for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. You can find some of her work at Black Feminist Ranter.

Robin Oxley, a Monash University Criminology lecturer and proud Tharawal woman. Robin also works as the Indigenous Academic Engagement Coordinator in the Yulendj Indigenous Engagement Unit at Monash University, making sure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students can access higher education in a culturally safe way.

Marayne Muller, A Palawa and Wiradjuri young woman, who works all day every day in her community, and was recently nominated for the Ricci Marks Indigenous Leadership award that is given to young people.

We brought these three women together because we believe that they embody what this year’s NAIDOC theme is – each of them are leaders, warriors, intellectuals, activists and so much more.

Why is it important for these kinds of events to take place?

Colonisation in this continent was an unmitigated success. Our stories are rarely told, the history wars saw us stripped from school curriculums, and anti-Indigenous racism is alive and well. It’s absolutely critical that all people come together to share and learn from each other if we ever want to decolonise our thinking, our communities and our country.

What can we learn from events like this that amplify the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in particular?

In my mind, allyship is a practice not an identity. And when we view it in that way, we never stop learning. Even if someone comes along and hears information that they already know (which seems unlikely given the incredible wealth of knowledge amongst the panellists), this is also a chance for non-Indigenous folk to be in a space in which they are de-centred.

Finally, what makes you most excited to be the host of Feminism In The Pub?

My hope is that people walk away from this event not just feeling good for attending, but with practical steps for decolonising their lives.

All photographs have been supplied by the Victorian Trades Hall. The feature image is an artwork titled tarmunggie-woman created by Cheryl Moggs, a proud descendant of the Bigambul people of Goondiwindi, Bungunya and Toobeah regions in South West Queensland and this year’s winner of the National NAIDOC Poster Competition. Her artwork celebrates this year’s NAIDOC theme — Because Of Her, We Can!