How to show up this NAIDOC Week (and beyond)
Your action required: The vital role that you (and your brand) play this NAIDOC Week.
5 minute read
By now you’ll (hopefully) be aware that it’s NAIDOC Week. Celebrated in the first week of July each year (Sunday to Sunday), it’s dedicated to the celebration of 50,000 years of survival as well as the recognition of the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.1
NAIDOC 2022’s theme is ’Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up!’. The theme has been described as a call to action.2 Because while Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been fighting for their freedom and to create change since the day Australia was colonised, the majority of us non-Indigenous Australians have remained embarrassingly silent.
As a non-Indigenous person, I am writing this article from the perspective of someone eager to educate myself, and NAIDOC Week is an opportunity for all Australians to do just that. It is a time for us to actively engage with First Nations culture, to confront uncomfortable truths about our nation’s past, and to show allyship with First Nations peoples by taking action.
Jody Broun, CEO, National Indigenous Australians Agency, explains:
“The NAIDOC Week theme for 2022 encourages all of us to champion and drive institutional, structural, and collaborative change while also acknowledging and celebrating those who for generations have driven positive change for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities.”3
“It is a time for us to actively engage with First Nations culture, to confront uncomfortable truths about our nation’s past, and to show allyship with First Nations peoples by taking action.”
While many of us are keen to take action, it pays to pause first. Consider that, as with both Black History Month and Pride Month, NAIDOC and Reconciliation Weeks have previously seen some poorly thought-through moves from ignorant brands looking to buy themselves some good PR.
Koori artist Blak Douglas explains that problems arise when corporate campaigns around NAIDOC Week demonstrate tokenism. An example he cites is the way organisations constantly focus on imagery inspired by the dot painting style of Central Australia.
"It seems to be becoming more stereotypical in what the layperson views as the Aboriginal art form. It's starkly consistent with what we end up seeing on each round of the NRL Indigenous footy team, in the tourist shots, on didgeridoos, on terracotta pots, on mouse pads etc… and it kind of keeps us in a stereotypical dark age."4
Dr Emma Lee, a Trawlwulwuy woman from Tebrakunna country, and research fellow at Swinburne University of Technology, explains the problem with businesses using NAIDOC Week to make a barrage of reconciliation and PR announcements.
"What bothers me about this is that instead of this week being for us to be able to define what our views are, what our aspirations are, we're now in a situation where we're having to respond to what others are doing," Dr Lee says.
"I'm concerned they're taking our space, because all of a sudden it puts an issue of gratitude onto our peoples — that we must be grateful for other people, governments in particular, for making these statements and pronouncements during our week.”4
Surface level attempts to capitalise on increased public awareness during events like NAIDOC Week are offensive and ineffective. Brands are often rightfully called out for performative actions that don’t create positive change. So, how can brands participate in a meaningful way?
A well-intentioned and received initiative was Australia Post’s introduction of packaging with a dedicated place for Indigenous land names, allowing Australians to recognise Country on their mail. Originally introduced during NAIDOC Week 2021, it is now a permanent fixture on Australia Post packaging.5
The move is meaningful as it acknowledges the fact that each area in Australia had a name prior to colonisation and provides a far-reaching opportunity for Australians to expand their knowledge of Indigenous history.
Netflix Australia has participated in the important job of amplifying Indigenous voices by using NAIDOC Week to showcase storytelling from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander filmmakers and voices across the streaming service.6
And Tourism Australia created Welcome to my Country – a video featuring prominent Aboriginal Elders encouraging Australians to explore country via Indigenous tourism experiences. Crucially, the campaign was written and created by Message Sticks and produced by Blackfisch, both majority Aboriginal-owned and operated companies.7
NAIDOC Week is about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples proudly celebrating their cultural survival. The role of non-Indigenous people (and brands) is to listen, stand alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as advocates and allies – and use the vehicles we have to amplify voices and address imbalances in any way we can.
NAIDOC Week events
The official database of NAIDOC Week events taking place across the country, searchable by postcode.
Australia’s leading database of verified Indigenous businesses.
The Indigenous Literacy Foundation
Working to increase literacy levels amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in remote areas of Australia.
The National Justice Project
Providing legal representation and amplification to communities harmed by government inaction and discrimination.