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27 Oct 2020


Walking together: SSI’s journey to harness the power of newcomer and First Nations communities

Anaiwan elder Steve Widders with Ezidi community member Khalaf Bari at the 2019 Reconciliation Week bridge walk. Photo credit: Anna Kucera

This has shown us the immense synergy between First Nations and Migrant communities, highlighting that, when we harness the combined wisdom, experience, and power of multicultural communities and First Peoples, we can create a better, fairer society for all.

After a long journey of learning and discovery, we are at the final stages in the development our first Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) and organisational revival vision.

That vision ensures we will listen, learn and share the wisdom of 60,000 years of an ancient culture.

SSI will work towards realising makarrata —birth a new season of kinship, where all people and cultures acknowledge our past, see each other and walk together in the spirit of strength and unity.

The desire to walk hand-in-hand is clearly illustrated by how Armidale’s Ezidi community turned out in great numbers in March 2019 for the city’s Reconciliation Bridge Walk.

One of the most memorable sights was local Anaiwan elder Steve Widders, who is vision impaired, walking arm-in-arm with Ezidi community member Khalaf Bari.

“On the day of the bridge walk, about 70 members of the Ezidi community turned up. Khalaf and another man came up. They said, ‘Please can we walk with you?’ It wasn’t planned. It happened because we have the same heart and we have empathy for each other.

“Communication isn’t a barrier. We stand the same, walk the same, and walk hand-in-hand. This is the beginning of a friendship that will expand through our families and through our respective communities,” said Steve.

Our journey to create a mutual, respectful relationship with First Nations peoples was partly inspired by ongoing yarning circles held between First Nations and newly arrived refugee and migrant women.

Yarning circles have been used by First Nations peoples from around the world for centuries to learn from a collective group, build respectful relationships and preserve and pass on cultural knowledge.

Over the past two years, SSI has supported the creation of yarning circles between First Nations women and newcomers in locations across Sydney.

At these sessions, women have harnessed their cultural connections to voice their experiences, have their stories heard and supported each other to cope with the challenges of settlement and heal from past trauma.

Participants said the women’s circles acted as a safe, sacred space for them to heal, feel connected to the community and gain confidence in themselves.

The circles are about more than conversation. They are an opportunity to heal by acknowledging the pains of the past and the mental scars that come with them, and to work to together to improve quality of life through shared growth and experience.

SSI’s vision is of multicultural Australians and First Nations communities walking hand-in-hand to collaborate and support each other in the pursuit of the best interests of all Australians.

Another major influence on the direction of SSI’s RAP is the Uluru Statement of the Heart, an initiative that calls for a First Nations voice to Parliament and a Makarrata Commission to supervise a process of agreement-making and truth-telling: voice, treaty and truth.

In 2020 SSI voiced its unwavering support for recognising Indigenous Australians in the nation’s constitution and called for corporate Australia to lend its weight to the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

SSI is now in the process of translating the statement into community languages so that in-language sessions on the need to support this proposed reform are available for all Australian minorities.

Nicole Laupepa, SSI Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Specialist, who has been key to the direction of SSI’s revival journey, said, “We’re fortunate enough to have one of the richest and oldest continuing cultures in the world. We should all be proud of and celebrate this.

“The greatest gift the First Nations people gave Australia was the gift of forgiveness. This gift was given in the true essence of reconciliation, to reconcile our nation and restore freedom and peace for all Australians.

“SSI has embraced this gift and has embarked on a journey to unite the nations and end the history of division and conflict through reconciliation.

“It has been a long journey but together we will strive to shape a pathway where everyone has an opportunity to prosper, contributing to an Australia that redefines difference and steps out in courage to build a unified, equal and respectful nation.”

Learn more about SSI’s support for the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

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