How Can Non-Indigenous People Show Up & Support Mob During NAIDOC Week And Beyond?

For myself and many First Nations people, NAIDOC is an incredibly significant time of year and part of what it means to be an Indigenous person. It’s literally called “Black Christmas” in our communities! 

Since the ’90s, from the first Sunday to the second Sunday in July, we have convened around the continent at events to celebrate our cultures and our achievements. It’s a time filled with community spirit, rushing to mob events your Mum volunteered you for but didn’t tell you about until the last minute, and making an endless stream of fresh cuppas for the Aunties and Uncles (no matter if you’re actually related not).

While NAIDOC and other First Nations events have typically been a mob-majority affair, with the social dial shifting there has been growing interest in First Nations affairs and spaces.

Personally, I have received many well-intentioned and genuine questions from non-Indigenous mates on how to best engage with times like NAIDOC and other First Nations spaces. So I wanted to think about it, yarn to some mob and put it in writing.

Now, this article isn’t a definitive answer — you’re not gonna receive the Aboriginal position in 1000 words or less. What you are gonna get though, is some thinking to sink your teeth into, as you consider how you’re gonna show up for First Nations people during this week and beyond.

(Image: NAIDOC)

How can non-Indigenous people engage with NAIDOC week?

One thing to get straight right off the bat — NAIDOC is incredibly important to a lot of Blackfellas. It’s not just a good time, but critical to our social, emotional and spiritual well-being as we continue to navigate and challenge systems that are detrimental to our communities.  

“NAIDOC week marks a healing and recuperation period of the year for me,” says Jasper Gurrnoong Cohen-Hunter, a Wurundjeri and Ngurai-Illum-Wurrung writer and advocate.

“After the brutal culture war cycle closes we embrace another year ahead and come together despite our differences, to unite as a community and be proud of our survival.”

Considering we are still in the aftermath of the Voice to Parliament referendum, it’s incredibly important to have spaces where we can come together as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and prepare for another year.

“To come together knowing that the brutality of politicians, pundits and the media was to continue with no breath of fresh air, was suffocating,” Jasper says.

“This year, I feel an immense weight lifted from my shoulders that at least we can go into NAIDOC week and find a safe place to heal before the next year together.”

(Image: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

One of the primary strengths of NAIDOC is that it prioritises First Nations people and perspectives. When you’re the overwhelming minority in most spaces, it is draining to constantly be a footnote or a photo opportunity for non-Indigenous people. It’s one of the most common critiques of events like Reconciliation Week — that it centres the non-Indigenous experience of being educated over the wellbeing needs of First Nations people.

Amanda Morgan, a Yorta Yorta woman and trauma-informed survivor advocate, echoes this sentiment.

“NAIDOC is the one time of the year that I feel hasn’t been completely white-washed by settler colonisers for marketing purposes or to pretend they are less racist and more progressive than they actually are,” she explains.

Similar to Jasper, Amanda also describes NAIDOC in a way that feels like a reprieve from having to constantly demand and advocate for our existence.

“It’s a time of year when Blakfullas tune out the naysayers and celebrate ourselves,” she says.

“Our excellence is unapologetically on full display and we radiate joy.”

While some NAIDOC events are mob-only, others are using the space to educate non-Indigenous people on First Nations peoples’ terms. Kai Clancy is a Wakka Wakka and Wulli Wulli Brotherboy (Aboriginal transmasculine person), who is organising an event called ‘The Indigenous All-Stahz Mini-Ball’ which focuses on a subculture of queer dance and art called Ballroom. 

Kai says that in Australia there are currently less than 10 Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people in Ballroom. This is what influenced the decision to open the Ball to non-Indigenous people, so “one more of our mob can enjoy and learn about ballroom and be in a fair and healthy competition with ballroom mob.” 

But there is an education element.

“Ballroom community can learn more about our community and pay proper respects and homage to us,” Kai explains, sharing that it’s an opportunity for organisers to speak on the introduction of Ballroom to Australia by Aboriginal artists from the House of Blackstar in the late 2000s, and the journey which then led to the current Ballroom scene being created by Filipina artist Bhenji Ra

However, being educated comes with a responsibility to not only show up to extract information out of First Nations people, but to consider how you will support and give back to our communities.

(Image: Darrian Traynor/Getty Images)

“The role of non-Indigenous people is to step back and use NAIDOC week as an opportunity to compare and contrast our success with the deficit narrative they’ve been taught,” Amanda tells me.

“But we don’t want you to just consume our dance, our music, paintings, sculptures, ceremonies, language and fashion. We want you to humble yourselves and not just listen to our stories, but sit in what they mean for you. What they mean for our collective future, and what that collective future requires of you.”

This sense of humility and reflection is also important to Jasper, who believes that celebration comes with “the responsibility of settlers to amplify and uplift the voices of Sovereign peoples. NAIDOC week is a time to learn, engage and be a part of one of the few times we can come together and celebrate who we are without the vicious racism in the media and from the government.” 

He also explained that for allies, the goal of times like NAIDOC week shouldn’t be to appear like the best ally in the world, but “to be an accountable, actionable and trusted accomplice in the struggle for land rights, justice and self-determination. Take the teachings of this week and amplify them for years to come in your neighbourhoods, schools, families and friendship circles to lighten the load on us.”

What are some tips for attending NAIDOC and other First Nations spaces?

Jasper emphasises that non-Indigenous attendees need to consider practically who these spaces and services are meant to prioritise — Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 

He recalls, “attending a fun run day during NAIDOC and coming back after a 10km run to have all of the catered food gone because non-Indigenous people had popped in for the live music and stalls. This meant that the Elders and community practising and promoting good health had to return home with an empty stomach.”

Amanda, on the other hand, prompts non-Indigenous people to educate themselves to contextualise the experience of being in mob spaces during NAIDOC and beyond.

“Before you attend that event, do some research about the history of Indigenous people on that Country. What happened there?” she advises.

(Image: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

Through understanding the history of the places we move through, we can also truly understand the intergenerational effort of First Nations people to still be here and claim space for ourselves.

“When you hear an Indigenous person share stories, think about what Indigenous people on that Country have had to survive to be standing in front of you,” Amanda says. “They represent a line of Ancestors who came before them, the resistance is the reason for our existence.”

There is no better space in the world to learn and support First Nations people than in events run by us and for us — it just has to be an interaction that is respectful and on our terms. 

Also hot tip: learn how to make a solid cuppa, we always need extra tea runners to the Elders’s tent. 

Phoebe McIlwraith is a Bundjalung Githabal and Worimi Saltwater writer, journalist and creative. She is a dubay/galbaan who uses she/her pronouns.