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People sit together in a meeting. A First Nations person presents a paper to the group.

National reconciliation centre to help lead national systemic change

Each year, National Reconciliation Week is bookended by three major milestones in the nation’s reconciliation journey.

May 26, commemorated before National Reconciliation Week, is National Sorry Day, the anniversary of the release of the Bringing Them Home report in 1997.

May 27 marks the 1967 Referendum that enabled the Commonwealth government to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to be counted in the Census.

June 3 observes the 1992 Mabo decision that overturned the myth of terra nullius – “land belonging to no one” – and recognised the existence of native title.

The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation established National Reconciliation Week in 1996. Since 2001, Reconciliation Australia has led the week and the reconciliation movement more broadly. This work embodies the “people’s movement” called for at the 1997 Australian Reconciliation Convention.

Today’s (2 June) launch of the National Centre for Reconciliation Practice will further national understandings of reconciliation beyond this allocated week in June. Through a range of programs, the centre will explore areas such as self determination, cultural safety, and Indigenous Knowledges.

Read more: 'More than a word’: practising reconciliation through Indigenous knowledge-sharing in tourism

Reconciliation movement

The reconciliation movement has garnered significant engagement from national, state and territory, and local reconciliation bodies.

This has included commitments to Reconciliation Action Plans from 2000 organisations with a reach of 4 million people, including workplaces, schools, universities, clubs, local councils, and many other organisations across the country.

Reconciliation Action Plans articulate an organisation’s commitment to reconciliation through measures such as increasing the employment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in their organisation. These plans also examine how to make workplaces culturally safe through actions such as cultural training and additional learning, and encouraging engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses.

However, the nation currently faces some crucial moments in its reconciliation journey. We have the opportunity to address long-standing reconciliation-related areas, including Indigenous rights, treaties, truth telling and reparative justice.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart invites the nation to address Voice, Treaty and Truth, a vital step on our reconciliation journey. The Yoorrook Justice Commission has been established in Victoria as the country’s first truth-telling body. Victoria, the Northern Territory and Queensland are also working towards state and territory-based treaties.

Read more: Reconciliation Week: a time to reflect on strong Indigenous leadership and resilience in the face of a pandemic

National Centre for Reconciliation Practice

Committed to this vision of reconciliation, Swinburne University is today launching the National Centre for Reconciliation Practice. Swinburne’s 2020-23 Elevate Reconciliation Action Plan’s primary commitment is the national centre, which is the first of it’s kind in Australia.

Led by Andrew Gunstone (this article’s lead author), the National Centre engages with a broad range of reconciliation matters. The National Centre also explores how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous peoples can collaborate in the national reconciliation journey.

The Centre does this through engagement, outreach, education and research activities. In particular four research programs led by Swinburne Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander academics. Each program relates to key areas of Swinburne’s Reconciliation Action Plan and concerns elements critical for sustainable reconciliation.

The programs are Cultural Safety, led by Wiradjuri scholar Sadie Heckenberg; Indigenous Knowledge, led by Yarra Yarra/ Yorta Yorta/ Ngarai illum Wurrung man Andrew Peters; Indigenous Rights, led by Garrwa scholar Emma Gavin; and Reconciliation Movements, led by Wiradjuri scholar Wendy Hermeston.

The National Centre is engaging with Reconciliation Australia, industry, communities, academia and governments to help lead national systemic change in reconciliation, with a range of current projects:

  • Documenting the history of the Australian reconciliation movement to better understand current reconciliation matters.
  • Working with Reconciliation Australia to develop several national RAP and reconciliation impact measurement tools.
  • Working with Reconciliation Australia to create industry-focused online training modules on Reconciliation Action Plans and reconciliation.
  • Working with Reconciliation Victoria to examine attitudes in the Victorian reconciliation movement on reconciliation matters.
  • Creating online teaching modules on decolonising and Indigenising higher education and vocational education.
  • Working with Ember Connect on empowering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in spaces of education.

Institutions, national, state and local governments each have a role in genuinely and tangibly committing to reconciliation and making their organisations culturally safe for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

As a nation, we must ensure real commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander self-determination. We must acknowledge the nation’s dark past so we can walk together in the present, as the Uluru Statement from the Heart calls for, “in a movement of the Australian people for a better future”.

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