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The First Nations women working to establish a national database of Traditional Place Names

Emma Ruben -

In 2020 Gomeroi woman and social worker Rachael McPhail petitioned Australia Post to include Traditional Place Names on mailing addresses and achieved success, with Aus Post marking NAIDOC Week that year by updating their guidelines to include Traditional names.

Now Ms McPhail, along with Gunai poet Kirli Saunders, Wuthathi and Meriam woman Tamina Pitt and activist Kaz McGrath, are working to establish a national database of First Nations Place Names.

Their aim is to create a digitally accessible database which offers people an opportunity to identify the First Nations Traditional Owners of the land on which they live.

Ms McPhail said after her Aus Post campaign she noticed how inaccurate some resources were in regards to Place Names.

"It kind of became apparent that the nationwide resource that we had, which is the AITSIS map, that it's not accurate," she said.

"And it wasn't created in collaboration with Elders and community leaders.

"Then our campaign evolved into petitioning for the creation of a database of First Nations Place Names."

After campaigning for two years they are now working on getting funding through a GoFundMe to establish a non-for-profit to carry out their work.

Ms Saunders said they want to ensure they were creating a data set which brings a lot of background technical expertise.

"Through consultation we want to sit down with mob and ask them what would be a right way to interpret or visualise or share this data," she said.

"But predominantly we want to make sure that the data is create in consultation with community, it's mananged by community.

"And that actually Traditional Custodians or Elders in that space have the authority over that information."

While it may seem their end goal is to have a comprehensive database, Ms McPhail and Ms Saunders said it is not about the end goal.

Rather, they hope through their work they are able to educate others about language sovereignty and the importance of Traditional Place Names.

"The focus of the work we're doing is around the social justice piece, as opposed to the outcomes which would potentially be a map or a database," Ms McPhail said.

"The outputs are important but the most important work is the language sovereignty. Where we're allowing this opportunity for Elders and community leads to record a dataset made by mob, with mob, for mob."

Ms McPhail and her team hope to approach consultation with community through inclusive, comprehensive, trauma-informed methods.

They want to ensure all data sources are created by First Nations people and verified with Elders everywhere as a source of truth.

Donations can be made through their GoFundMe.

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