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Summit's timely deep dive into significance of First Nations culture

David Prestipino -

Organisers of the highly anticipated 2023 Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Studies (AIATSIS) Summit have hailed the week-long event an overwhelming success.

More than 1,500 cultural and community leaders joined native title stakeholders, academics, government officials and legal experts from across Australia on Noongar Boodja, which hosted 400 sessions across five days at Perth Convention Exhibition Centre.

Each day of the summit started with a smoking ceremony from members of the Noongar community and a Welcome to Country from local Elders.

Co-convened with the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council, this year's theme 'Navigating the spaces in between' emphasised the value of sharing First Nations culture, challenges and information through a range of workshops, panel conversations and keynote addresses across five streams from delegates including Noongar Elders Dr Richard Walley and Geri Hayden and Indigenous Affairs Minister Linda Burney, who told the day one audience "we are at a defining moment in our history".

"This referendum is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We have within our grasp the chance to make a positive change that will last for generations," she said.

"AIATSIS is vital to preserving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and stories, and your annual summits are one of the ways we strengthen our cultures and knowledge.

"First Nations stories are fundamental to the national conversation about our country's history. The work you do to bring cultural material held overseas back to Australia - lets the world know that our culture deserves respect – thank you."

The third day of the summit saw Aunty Gail Mabo - daughter of land rights campaigner Eddie Mabo - and her son Kaleb receive a standing ovation on stage after their introduction to the AIATSIS Mabo lecture, sharing some of the history of Mer Island and the story of Mabo.

"It's time to let young people's voices come through... and so for me, my son - who is my eldest of seven - it's his turn," Aunty Gail said.

More than 50 exhibitors were on hand, with the SWALSC and six Noongar Regional Corporations providing opportunities for people to engage and learn about Noongar culture, art, and tradition, as well as the historic South West Native Title Settlement in 2021, the biggest native title settlement in Australia.

First Nations artwork, culture, presentations and entertainment were woven through the week's program that centred on topics including research, constitutional transformation, country, native title, women's empowerment, treaty, health and finding your mob.

Socialising and networking events at the Claremont Showgrounds allowed delegates to network and unwind, with media personality Narelda Jacobs hosting a gala dinner that featured an array of singers and performers that officially ended the 2023 event.

A Youth Forum delved into the experiences of First Nations youth and gave attendees opportunities to engage with native title, governance, and nation-building, while a huge crowd attended the Native Threads First Nations Fashion Show, featuring an array of designers, with local artisans showcasing their fashion, jewellery and other creations.

A communal weaving project from Culture Weave, led by Noongar artist Nadine Foley, was also popular with attendees and led to the creation of a beautiful piece of artwork.

AIATSIS Council chair Jodie Sizer said the gathering was particularly important now more than ever, with First Nations affairs at the forefront of the country's minds.

"Coming together for our people, networking, connecting, and making new relationships. This is the way we do our business," she told attendees.

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