It is through language that we communicate with the world, define our identity, express our history and culture, learn, defend our human rights and participate in all aspects of society, to name but a few.
Through language, people preserve their community’s history, customs and traditions, memory, unique modes of thinking, meaning and expression. They also use it to construct their future. Language is pivotal in the areas of human rights protection, good governance, peace building, reconciliation, and sustainable development.
A person’s right to use his or her chosen language is a prerequisite for freedom of thought, opinion and expression, access to education and information, employment, building inclusive societies, and other values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Many of us take it for granted that we can conduct our lives in our home languages without any constraints or prejudice. But this is not the case for everyone.
Part of the shameful role of colonial behaviour in Australia since 1788, is the conscious and unconscious effort to create a White Australia that only spoke English. This required new immigrants to forget their native language and assimilate by only speaking English, but more significantly, it completely denied Aboriginal Australians the dignity or right to speak their own languages.
I grew up in an Australia that was almost empty of Aboriginal words.
Many rural towns and suburbs retained names derived from an Indigenous term to describe the local area and some of our plants and animals have a similar history. As a teenager, in particular, an Indigenous word would enter our language colloquially, but there was no systemic teaching, understanding or use of local languages.
Slowly, slowly, Indigenous languages are being revived, encouraged and celebrated. Dictionaries are being created, recordings are being made and Indigenous writers and artists are using their own words more often in their work.
Two of the poems in Saunders’ collection, Kindred, caught my eye for this reason.
- My Apologies (written on Dharawal Country with Dharawal translations informed by Aunty Jodi Edwards) finishes with a list of English words, followed by their Dharawal counterparts.
- And Wirritjiribin: Lyrebird – The one who Remembers (written on Gundungurra Country with Gundungurra translations informed by Aunty Velma Mulcahy and Aunty Trish Levett) contains two stanzas that mirror each other. One is written in part English/part Gundungurra, the other is a full English translation.
- Kirli Saunders is a proud Gunai woman, born on Gundungurra Country with ties to the Yuin, Biripi and Gadigal people.
- Interview for Kindred in the National Indigenous Times 27th May 2019.
- Saunders was made Gunai Woman NSW Aboriginal Woman of the Year 2020.
- She developed Poetry in First Languages project for Red Room Poetry.
- Inaugural winner Daisy Utemorrah Award 2019
- Winner University of Canberra ATSI Poetry prize 2019
- Shortlist ABIA Award Small Publishers’ Adult Book of the Year 2020