For many First Nations people January 26 is not the date to celebrate so-called Australia, but a day for all to reflect on the beginning of a genocide and oppression of First Peoples that is ongoing today.

Some campaigns aim to change the date to one that celebrates Indigenous survival, not our colonial past, while others hope to abolish “Australia Day” all together.

“For many First Nations people the ongoing conversations around January 26 are pretty exhausting, because this movement has been happening for such a long time and our Elders and ancestors have been doing this work around narrative change for generations,” Rona Glynn-McDonald, Kaytetye woman and CEO of not-for-profit online education organisation Common Ground, said.

“But I believe the movement is slowly shifting and January 26 provides an opportunity to have really hard conversations.”

January 26 holds significance for many as Invasion Day, Survival Day, and as the anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, which was set up by First Nations activists opposite Parliament House in Canberra in 1972.

But there are dozens of other important dates in the calendar that both acknowledge the movement to recognise First Nations rights and celebrate the richness of the longest existing culture on Earth. 

Nathan Mudyi Sentance, a Wiradjuri man and community engagement coordinator at the Australian Museum in Sydney, said dates should be honoured critically and used as a springboard to think not about how far we’ve come, but about what has stayed the same.

“Regardless of what we’re celebrating we should be careful of how we’re doing it,” he told PEDESTRIAN.TV.

He says people often see events like Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008 as showing linear progress, but they should instead provide an opportunity to address what still needs to change. 

“[Rudd] didn’t explain that more Indigenous children are being taken away from their families now than ever during the Stolen Generations, so we need to balance how we talk about these things,” he said.

Glynn-McDonald said there were many days to reflect on ongoing injustices and other days to celebrate cultures, but we should be “active allies” and extend that allyship to every day of the year.

“There are important days all throughout the year where we should be having conversations that listen deeply and humbly to First Nations’ voices and experiences.”

February 13-26: Anniversary of the 1965 Freedom Ride

A group of University of Sydney students formed the Student Action For Aborigines (SAFA) embarked on a 15-day bus journey through regional NSW to shine a light on racism towards First Nations people. They directly challenged segregation of children at swimming pools and in RSLs.

March 8: International Women’s Day

While not specifically targeted at First Nations people, women’s rights and First Nations rights have to go hand in hand.

“Days that celebrate women, they provide opportunities to think about and reflect on the centring roles that First Nations women play in our cultures, but also the matriarchal systems that exist for some First Nations cultures across the continent,” Glynn-McDonald said.

This year’s theme is #BreakTheBias, encouraging people to recognise stigma against all women and non-binary people.

May 1: Anniversary of the 1946 Pilbara Strike

Known as the first First Nations industrial action and the longest strike in Australian history, when 800 First Nations workers in WA demanded better wages and working conditions.

June 3: Mabo Day

Named after Torres Strait Islander man Eddie Mabo, the date is the annual recognition of the High Court’s overturning of terra nullius doctrine, meaning “nobody’s land”, paving the way for the Native Title Act (1993).

July 3-10, 2022: NAIDOC Week

NAIDOC Week focusses on First Nations resistance and celebrates First Nations cultures and stories, encouraging listening and truth-telling.

There are thousands of NAIDOC events in every state for all communities to be involved.

“NAIDOC Week is an amazing opportunity to be able to experience First Nations strengths and the enduring connections that we hold to culture and country,” Glynn-McDonald said.

September 25: Anniversary of Cathy Freeman’s Olympic Gold Medal Win

Kuku Yalanji and Burri Gubba woman Cathy Freeman was the first Aboriginal gold medalist. In 2000 she won the gold for the 400m sprint.

October 26: Anniversary of the Uluru Handback

In 1985 the Governor-General handed the land title deeds for Uluru back to the Anangu people, who campaigned for it to be returned for decades. On the same date in 2019, the Uluru climb was permanently closed.

And these are just some of the many dates of significance throughout Aboriginal history and resistance — you can read more at Common Ground.

Image: Getty Images / Lisa Maree Williams