Traditionally, each Indigenous community had their system of identifications, according to their own Law. These systems determined language, Country, songs, stories, dances and ceremonial process. This cultural specificity continues to connect people and communities to Country and place.
Diversity has always been a significant element of Indigenous culture. Each community, (language group) had its own language and system.The collective name ‘Aboriginal’ only took form in the late 1700s: there was no generic ‘Aboriginal’ identity prior to colonization.
At the time of European settlement in Australia, white settlers applied the term
‘Aborigine’ to all original indigenous inhabitants they encountered. Most likely, they did not consider the possibility of differences between peoples in various parts of the country. Subsequently, they coined generic terms such as ‘Aboriginal culture’, ‘Aboriginal conditions’, ‘Aboriginal experience’, ‘Aboriginal history’ and soon.
Martin Nakata, Chair of Australian Indigenous Education, and director of Nura Gili Indigenous studies unit at University of NSW, describes implications of using such terms, on the people of the Torres Strait. He explains how grouping all islands under a single name: ‘Torres Strait Islanders’, dismisses territorial boundaries and political affiliations between traditional groups of the different islands.
The essence of individual and community identity is embedded in language. Country, songs, stories, dances, and ceremonial process, central to clan and community identity, are evidence of this. Today, the UNESCO website lists many Indigenous Australian languages as critically endangered. We should consider implications of this on Community and individual identity.
Stephen Jampijinpa Patrick, a Walpiri man, explains his feelings about how language is integral to his identity. He likens language to a tree that stands firm in his country, giving him a strong sense of the identity he was born with and will die with. He feels those who lose language also lose their identity, and sees language as a defence, ‘kurdiji’ in his language, meaning ‘a shield’, that gives him strength