We’ve chatted to three inspiring Indigenous artists and creators -Marlee Silva, Allira Potter and Rachael Sarra - to discuss what NAIDOC Week and in particular ‘Heal Country’ means to them, and hear their views on the need to celebrate, support and share the work and achievements of First Nations peoples 365 days a year – not just one week in July.
Marlee Silva is a 25 year old Gamilaroi and Dunghutti storyteller based on the lands of the Dharrawal people, south of Sydney. She is a published author, the host of Always Was, Always Will Be Our Stories and Chicks & Balls the podcast and spends most of her days writing for different outlets, exploring creative ways to engage with new audiences around the issues and ideas she’s most passionate about.
Allira Potter is a proud Yorta Yorta woman, a trained reiki practitioner, intuitive reader, energy healer, life coach and meditation guide. Allira’s practice is fully immersed around culture, cultural awareness and education, with a focus on debunking the wellness narrative to ensure diverse representation and decolonisation of a white-dominated wellness space.
Rachael Sarra is an artist and designer whose work is an extension of her being and experiences. As a contemporary Aboriginal artist from Goreng Goreng Country, Rachael uses art as a powerful tool in storytelling to educate and share Aboriginal culture and it’s evolution.
What does NAIDOC Week mean to you?
Marlee: NAIDOC Week is different to other events on the calendar that have a focus on highlighting First Nations’ voices. Unlike Reconciliation Week or January 26th, where there’s a lot of emotional and spiritual work that’s put on First Nations people, to be the educators and to express to non-Indigenous Australia what needs to change and what work needs to be done – NAIDOC is about celebration. It’s about the joy, beauty and triumphs of First Nations people and culture. It’s about spending time with family and community and revelling in blak excellence.
Allira: NAIDOC week is important as its a way for our community to acknowledge, celebrate and reflect on our culture. NAIDOC week means a lot to me as it’s a way for me to celebrate myself as an Aboriginal woman, take a moment to celebrate the amazing things community are doing and also future-think on how we can ensure our future generations are looked after.
Rachael: NAIDOC Week is super special for mob. Its a time where we can get together with our community and celebrate all the deadly achievements of our people. This year and last year have been a bit different with COVID but not even a pandemic can ruin the pride we have for our culture. We always find a way to celebrate albeit virtually.
How do you interpret this year’s theme: ‘Heal Country’?
Marlee: Heal Country feels like an incredibly poignant and vital theme for NAIDOC this year. After the destruction of so much country with the fires at the beginning of 2020, there was a massive influx of non-Indigenous people turning to traditional Aboriginal ways of fire management, and in turn, reflection on the knowledge our people have about caring for land in general. While it’s hard to think about anything other than the way the pandemic is impacting our lives at the moment, we can’t forget we’re also in the midst of a rapidly changing climate across the globe. How we plan for the future, must start with an understanding of what we can learn from the past. Healing country doesn’t only mean repairing the ground physically at our feet, but the healing we need between ourselves too, so prosperity in all forms may arise.
Allira: I interpret it as a way for me to reflect on how I can do better in respecting and playing my part in country. Looking at it from the perspective of how can I ensure I am playing my part in land management and advocating for sacred sites.
Rachael: Heal Country, in some ways, is a theme that cannot be separate from us as people. We have such a strong spiritual connection to our Country. Over the last year we have seen so much destruction of our sacred sites and we are deeply amongst a climate crisis changing the way our communities have survived for so many years. Healing Country, is preserving our culture for another 80000 years. We are country, and country is us.
How do you think businesses/people can better support indigenous artists/content creators?
Marlee: I think if your business operates in Australia, it operates on First Nations land and therefore, a relationship with the community, whose land you’re on, must be at the foundations of what you do. Listening to the First Nations people you engage with is absolutely vital and listening to learn, not to respond, is an important distinction as well.
Allira: I think people can support Indigenous creatives by taking a moment to know and learn more about our culture and the Individual themselves. Every creative and content creator gives something unique and different based on where they are in Australia and who their mob are.
Rachael: Firstly, sit with it and go in. Decolonising your own thinking allows you to understand your position here and can eliminate any bias you may have been conditioned to have. Like and Share content. Buy products. Pay creators for their input and intellectual property.
What message would you personally like to communicate during NAIDOC Week…and beyond?
Marlee: To non-Indigenous people my message would be to observe NAIDOC Week as another reminder that caring about First Nations communities and the issues that impact us, should be happening 365 days a year. And for all of us to ask ourselves, how are we currently treating the land at our feet with our everyday life and how can’t we tread more lightly? What small step can we each take to heal the country we live on?
Allira: I would love to communicate that this is the time for Non-Indigenous people to acknowledge our First Nations culture and know that we have a long way to go in terms of equality.
Rachael: Less emphasis on NAIDOC Week and more emphasis on beyond. We're Blak 365 days a year. We do great things 365 days a year. We face the generational trauma of colonisation 365 days a year. Companies should do more work throughout the year to better themselves and let NAIDOC Week be a time where mob can celebrate rather than have the pressure to create content.