NAIDOC week – language and culture

Ray McMinn is a proud aboriginal man in his early 60s. He smiles at the camera and he wear both an aboriginal flag and an RSL pin on his lapel.

NAIDOC week – language and culture

NAIDOC (National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee) Week is an annual event where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people celebrate their history, culture and achievements. The theme this year is Our Languages Matter and it aims to emphasise and celebrate the unique and essential role Indigenous languages play in cultural identity, linking people to their land and water and the transmission of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, spirituality and rites.

We sat down to have a Q and A with Ray McMinn, the Advocate for Aboriginal People at Uniting,

How many Aboriginal languages are there and how many have we lost?

There are around 270 current active Aboriginal languages in Australia at the moment. This is a major decline as there was once more than 600.

Are they still in decline and if not, what changed?

No, thankfully they are not dropping further. The decline has levelled off with the Government’s realisation we need to restore these languages. Restoration is fundamental to Aboriginal people’s wellbeing and to the heritage of the country.

Why is it so important to restore these languages?

There are so many reasons why this is important.

Meanings of terms would be lost if we don’t keep traditional languages alive. For example, where the English language might need two sentences to explain a particular thing, many Aboriginal languages will have one word or phrase. This happens a lot when we talk about Australian animals or climate patterns. It would be a true loss to see these terms filtered out through time.

People desire to know where they came from and understand their background. It gives them a sense of belonging and heritage. It can help with their confidence and mental wellbeing.

Australians need to take pride in their heritage. When you visit another country it is often the first thing you learn about it. There are so many opportunities to do a similar thing in Australia.

Are there benefits to learning more than one language?

There have been some studies showing that young Aboriginal people who are learning their traditional language alongside English are actually achieving higher results in their other studies than those who are not.

What is being done to restore the traditional languages?

There are individual and national projects put in place to help. There are Government grants available to fund research and documentation of traditional languages. These funds can help reach out to the elders, learn from them and document all they have to say so we can pass it down from generation to generation.

Some States have dictionaries which translate from traditional languages into English. It would be fantastic if NSW did the same.

What is Uniting doing to help?

At Uniting we see what is required for local communities by local communities. Our Aboriginal Services Development Unit, gives Aboriginal leadership for Aboriginal Services.

Its strategy states we will be inclusive of local knowledge and language where possible. We will name things by the local language and embrace its resurgence.

Uniting embraces this restoration and is always thinking of ways to be supportive.

Get in touch

To find out more about Uniting or talk to us about our Aboriginal Services Development Unit or our other programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, call us on 1800 864 846 or email

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