Chris Sara has won the NAIDOC person of the year award
Chris Sara has won the NAIDOC person of the year award Glenn Hunt

Chris Sarra awarded NAIDOC Person of the Year

BUNDABERG man Chris Sarra has won the NAIDOC Week Person of the Year and called for a treaty.

The National NAIDOC Committee last night congratulated ten outstanding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians who were honoured at the 2016 National NAIDOC Awards Ceremony in Darwin.

The Person of the Year Award, sponsored by the Commonwealth Bank, went to Professor Chris Sarra, a Goreng Goreng man from Bundaberg for his extraordinary efforts of the past 20 years to improving Aboriginal educational outcomes throughout Australia.

Below is Mr Sara's speech and his call to Bundaberg Mayor Jack Dempsey, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and PM Malcolm Turnbull to sign a treaty.

"Thanks to my wife and children, and my family for your ongoing support.

Thank you to my friends and colleagues who are part of the stronger smarter revolution… a revolution with an authentic belief in the humanity of Aboriginal Australia… and all Australians… and our capacity to be exceptional together.

Some years ago I was down and I thank those who stood by me during this time... A time when I had never felt so culturally, spiritually or professionally disempowered you continued to believe in me, and gave me license to keep believing in myself.

I want to mention specifically people like my friend and intellectual mentor Dr Gary MacLennan, Sharon Grose who worked for SSI for no wages, to keep it afloat, Glen Brennan and the NAB, Elena Mogilevski from the Sidney Myer Foundation for having the faith to continue investing in us.

 Let me also mention Professor Geoff Riordan and his colleagues from the University of Canberra, and other good people like Herb Elliot, Jeff McMullen and Teresa Adamsen.

I thank Professor Sharne Housten from University of Sydney and it was Professor Mark Rose who reminded me not to worry so much.

He said 'Them old people; they're still looking after us you know!'.

THIS HONOUR in some ways BELONGS to our ghost children.

Those Aboriginal girls and boys, dead by their own hand, who no longer believed that the future could be better, or that they had a place in it.

IT BELONGS to Indigenous students rotting in classrooms no Minister or millionaire would send their child to... To those kids I say this: In more than 500 stronger smarter schools nationwide, students just like you are coming to school, staying in school and succeeding.

You are not forgotten… And we will come for you.

IT BELONGS to Indigenous parents and communities, across Australia who are working with schools to deliver on the life giving promise of a stronger smarter future.

IT BELONGS, also, to more than 2000 school and community leaders in this education revolution for our children.

They've worked their guts out to deliver what most thought impossible.

Your work honours Aboriginal Australia and the teaching profession… And I salute you for this.

For as long as I can remember, thanks to my mum and my dad …. I've always known that being Aboriginal was awesome.

That I was no better or worse than any other.

That hard work, service and compassion was my obligation.

That even in the face of inhumanity, I should treat people as I'd want to be treated.

Those values and beliefs strengthened my core and kept safe my soul.

Armed with this truth, even when victimized, no one could make me their victim...

Not the government, whose laws stole the land that my Grandfather Broome was promised in return for his hard work.

Not the drunk neighbor who called us little black bastards, even when we mowed his lawn for him.

Not the teachers who had limited beliefs in who I was and what I could achieve...

Not even the university who used my black face to attract money for projects, but then couldn't trust me to execute their delivery.

None of the racism, none of the hurt, none of the lies others said about me or my culture rang true.

None broke through to that precious place, where my self-belief resides.

The battle to create equal futures has a frustratingly long way to go... Plenty of people must play a part.

For us as blackfullas, that journey always begins in here (slap chest over heart)...

To those of us who feel broken or insufficient... who feel anything but powerful... remember this.

Of all the billions ever born, it is, We, Australia's First People... we alone share the blood of the world's longest surviving civilisation.

On this note I have a message for Jack Dempsey, Mayor of Bundaberg, to Annastacia Palaszczuk, Premier of Queensland, and to Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australia.

I am a descendant of the Gurang Gurang and Taribilang Bunda people.

When you are ready, and when you have the courage and are prepared to be bold, me and my people.. we are ready to talk with you about a Treaty.

For tens of thousands of years, our sovereign nations shared borders, trade and travel.

Our laws were strong.

Our faith deep.

And our songs enchanted.

Culture enlightened our souls, and dreamings lit the way.

The past 200 years, by contrast, were everything the past 50,000 weren't.

In the blink of an historical eye we were banished to the edges of the very worlds we'd governed for eons.

There was a disruption to our excellence.

Our parents and theirs were stripped of all they loved... their kids, homes, land and culture.

Our people weren't called slaves, but laboured as such... Shackled, starved, never paid wages.

Black diggers fought and died for a nation that denied them the vote.

The damage and privations continue for many today.

I acknowledge those complexities and stand with you in acknowledging that all Australians have a part to play in resolving them….. That is a truth.

But other truths are also at play.

Those challenges do not define us.

Those who despise or pity us or think we are less, their blindness, that is their affliction and loss.

We are more than victims and mere survivors.

The scars we carry aren't who we are.

They aren't signs of guilt or capability.

They are the not the truth about our potential or capacity.

They are a part of ourselves that still need healing.

And healing cannot happen while ever we believe the lies that we are a weak, desperate people, devoid of humanity and incapable of helping ourselves.

The truth is this…… We are stronger than we believe and smarter than we know.

For 50,000 history making years, our old people lived like kings in lands where camel die of thirst.

They stood as ironbark.

Upright, strong, tall standing and unbreakable.

Their lessons, their songlines, their legacy and their dreamings.

They are our true north.

They are the truth not only of who we were, but who we can be again.

My brothers and sisters, believe me when I say this.

We are stronger than we believe… And smarter than we know.

Solidly anchored by an honourable past, more than any other human beings on the planet… we can take our place in an honourable future…We have survived…. And now we must thrive. "

 

The Committee extended its congratulations to all of the 2016 National NAIDOC Award winners.

"It is humbling to see the breadth of amazing work being done by so many talented and dedicated individuals across our land," said Committee Co-Chair, Benjamin Mitchell.

Congratulations to:

Manymak Energy Efficiency Project (NT) - Caring for Country Award winner 

Elijah Douglas (QLD) - Youth of the Year 

Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu (NT) - Artist of the Year 

Layneisha Sgro (WA) - Scholar of the Year 

Montana Ah-Won (WA) - Apprentice of the Year 

Jade North (NSW) - Sportsperson of the Year 

Professor MaryAnn Bin-Sallik (NT) - Female Elder of the Year 

Dr Robert Francis Isaacs (WA) - Male Elder of the Year 

Professor Chris Sarra (QLD) - Person of the Year 

Stephen Page (QLD) - Lifetime Achievement Award winner

The Committee acknowledged the Australian Government for its ongoing support and the Commonwealth Bank for its continued generous sponsorship of the 2016 VIP area and the $20,000 Person of the Year bursary.

In addition this year saw new sponsors coming on board to support the event including the Northern Territory Government, Batchelor Institute, Charles Darwin University, TFE Hotels, Flinders University and Telstra.

"We are humbled to have worked with so many amazing partners this year, whose support helped to make the 2016 national celebrations some of the biggest yet." said Committee Co-Chair, Anne Martin.

The Awards were hosted at the Darwin Convention Centre and attended by over 1500 guests.

Guests included the Larrakia people, the Darwin community, federal and state politicians and high profile Indigenous affairs identities.

The Committee welcomed first time presenter Hannah Hollis and welcome back Luke Caroll as hosts for the evening.

The entertainment line-up included One Mob Different Country, Upai Purri, Shellie Morris, Leah Flanagan, Sean Choolburra, B2M and a special Yothu Yindi tribute by East Journey.

The Committee thanks all involved in making this year another successful National NAIDOC event.

"It is a great privilege for us to be able to stage the Awards each year in a different city around this beautiful country. I would like to convey a special thank you to the Top End NAIDOC Committee for its assistance with the Awards and the Larrakia people for welcoming us onto their land", said Mr Mitchell.

For more information on NAIDOC Week and the 2016 National NAIDOC Awards winners, visit www.naidoc.org.au


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