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AEDF panel discussion asks what it means to be Blak in Australia

Brendan Foster -

What does it mean to be a First Nations Australian in 2023? And who has the right to define what is the "true definition" of an Indigenous person?

In the panel discussion, 'What's Blak? Who's Blak? A Decision For Us, By Us', at the 11th Aboriginal Economic Development Forum in Darwin, First Nation business leaders and heads of industry discuss the issue of Indigenous identity.

Panel moderator and General Manager of Indigenous Business Growth at the Northern Territory Indigenous Business Network, Naomi Anstess said the definition of who is an First Nations person in Australia in important when defining "black" business.

"To find who is and is not an Indigenous Australia is highly controversial," she said.

"The definition in and of itself carries significant issues, particularly in the notion that you can be accepted.

"As such, past policies have impacted many families in relation to removal and identification making connection to country at a resolution for the country difficult for many of us. The question of proof indigeneity is important in defining black business. But it needs to be asked who decides?"

Managing Director of Kings Narrative, Tyson Carmody posed the question - why do First Nations people have to define themselves all the time?

"No one else in the country has to be defined," he said.

"So what is the purpose of this question? "And we should just be here, we can define ourselves.

"I have been privileged to grow up the way I've grown up in my family and my country with everything I've seen and learn from my grandfather and, and that's really helped me to I am and into what I'm doing now, and are for a long time growing up.

"People often say I don't see colour. And then kind of irritates me. Because I want you to see what, and I want you to treat me still with respect that you don't have, because if you don't see my colour, and you don't see me, that's how I feel about that."

Noongar Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chair Gordon Cole said while the definition of what it means to be a First Nations person is a lot better than what it was in the past, there was not one way to be "black" in Australia.

"We have all different upbringings different circumstances, and some people are still trying to find their family," he said.

"So we have to be very cognizant of we don't pay to own people, what government have done.

"So we have to be very embracing and sensitive, tolerant and harmonious to this crisis because if we don't, we are just exacerbating and doing the same thing. So, we have to provide processes and mechanisms and kindness and love to the people that own the journey."

Libby Collins, creative producer and director from storytelling agency Garuwa, said growing up she was always immersed in culture, language and family so she developed a strong sense of identity.

But she's still had to deal with people questioning her Aboriginality purely because she was articulate and educated

"I completely acknowledge that I've had a different upbringing to a lot of people, we've all had different experiences growing up, we all have our ownership of culture, and language, and family and all the rest of it, it's different for everyone," she said.

"People make assumptions about me because I speak really good for an Aboriginal person.

"My mum was Black, all of my family's Black, I've always spoken language, I've always danced at funerals. And none of that is different to me. And so I was pretty ignorant. But I thought I wasn't losing out on anything. I wasn't the one searching for the right words."

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