Australia’s only statutory body for supporting Aboriginal languages wants mob to have their say on what they need to keep language and culture flourishing in New South Wales.

NSW Aboriginal Languages Trust is calling for submissions from communities, organisations and individuals to help guide their first five-year Strategic Plan. The Strategic Plan will be finalised in March 2022 and will guide the Trust’s first years of activity until March 2027.

The Trust was established in March 2020 with an aim to increase the use of Aboriginal languages, support Aboriginal language groups and bring awareness of the contributions that languages bring to both Indigenous people and New South Wales as a whole.

A spokesperson for NSW Aboriginal Affairs Minister Don Harwin said there are over 100 groups that have expressed interest in the nurturing and growth of Aboriginal languages in NSW. They expect enormous interest in the consultation process.

People speaking language in their communities know best what support they need to see their language flourish, says Trust Chair Jason Behrendt, a proud Yuwaalaraay man.

“At the end of the day, languages belong to communities and the nurturing and growing of languages needs to occur within communities, and communities need to control and design how that occurs and do so on their own terms.”

Minister Harwin’s spokesperson told NIT the Trust needs feedback from Aboriginal communities to ensure the Plan supports the communities’ own aspirations for their languages.

Behrendt says language health and the number of its speakers varies between the many Indigenous languages spoken in NSW, and that much of the Trust’s activities will centre around connecting communities and language organisations with one another. 

“Some communities have well established language programs, and others have aspirations to develop those programs but haven’t yet been in a position to do so,” he said.

“I think the focus, certainly for the initial five years would be to build those networks to give support to language.”

NSW is the first jurisdiction in Australia to enact Aboriginal languages legislation.

The Aboriginal Languages Act 2017 (NSW) looks directly at government’s responsibility for the loss of so many of Australia’s First Nations’ languages, and sets the right to control the nurturing of languages squarely with First Nations people.

“As a result of past government decisions Aboriginal languages were almost lost, but they were spoken in secret and passed on through Aboriginal families and communities,” the legislation’s preamble reads.  

“It is acknowledged that Aboriginal people are the custodians of Aboriginal languages and have the right to control their growth and nurturing.”

Behrendt hopes success in the state will bring more legislation like the Aboriginal Languages Act 2017 (NSW) to other States and Territories.

“This is unique legislation, and we’re all committed to making it work. New South Wales is the only State that has legislation of this kind, and if it’s effective, hopefully other States might follow this model,” he said.

Consultation will take the form of surveys, meetings, individual discussions, and a planned event, the details of which will be released later this year.

By Sarah Smit