“The biggest step forward in reconciliation since Sorry Day.”
That is how Indigenous language expert and proud Kamilaroi man Lenny Waters has described the NSW Upper House’s decision to pass the nation’s first Indigenous Languages Bill.
Hundreds gathered outside Sydney’s Parliament House on Wednesday to usher in the historic legislation, aimed at recognising and reviving Indigenous languages.
The bill was introduced by Aboriginal Affairs minister Sarah Mitchell, with the key aspect being the appointment of an independent panel of Aboriginal language experts and the establishment of a new languages centre.
There are an estimated 35 different Indigenous languages spoken across the state by an estimated 1800 people, with varying levels of fluency.
“It has been a long journey but we finally have it before parliament,” Mr Waters said.
“First and foremost it is the recognition of Aboriginal languages, which is vital because it has a lot to do with identity and ones self, but it is also a massive step in reconciliation – it is a remarkable step forward.
“It is about the exposure and embracement of Aboriginal language and culture. If we can show the way now then there will be lots of improvements in the wider community in the long run.”
Mr Waters has been speaking and teaching the Kamilaroi language around schools and community groups for years, and has already seen a huge rise in interest in the past decade that he hopes the new bill will push further still.
“There are very, very few people that speak fluent Kamilaroi, and there is a real shortage of language teachers, although that has been improving over the last ten years,” he said.
“TAFE New England and Western are now leading the way with Certificates I, II, and III, but even in the last 12 months I have noticed a lot more interest in classrooms and communities – especially in the non-Aboriginal kids, that is particularly rewarding for me.”
Mr Waters attended several of the research forum’s that led to the writing of the historic bill, and is now planning a trip to Sydney to witness the bill pass through the lower house next week.
“To me, and to all the old people, and to the ones that have gone, we are very proud and very humble that younger generations have been and will be carrying the baton on for them,” Mr Waters said.
“It is very welcome – bring on the future.”