National Reconciliation Week 2023 -
What does Reconciliation mean to John Monash Scholars?
National Reconciliation Week – 27 May to 3 June – is a time for all Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures, and achievements, and to explore how each of us can contribute to achieving reconciliation in Australia.
As celebrations begin next week, Karri Walker, 2023 Victorian Government John Monash Scholar and Dr Brett Shannon, 2021 Australian Universities’ John Monash Scholar, share the significance of this week and the importance of reconciling the relationship between the broader Australian community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait.
Dr Brett Shannon, 2021 Australian Universities’ John Monash Scholar
Since 1998, National Sorry Day remembers and acknowledges the mistreatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were forcibly removed from their families and communities, known as the "Stolen Generations". As a Ngugi man and a 2021 Monash scholar undertaking my PhD with the University of Illinois, Chicago on the topic of Indigenous Occupational Health, it is timely for me to reflect on the meaning of this year's theme for National Reconciliation Week and those who have supported me on this journey thus far. How I can give a voice to future generations through my work as an Indigenous doctor, researcher and policy advisor is an important consideration in a system facing multiple and complex challenges. I aim to be a strong advocate for positive change, working with stakeholders to influence research, policy and practice through development of an agenda and investment in Indigenous occupational health and safety to develop surveillance and prioritisation of Indigenous health needs in the workplace in Australia and overseas, an area that has been neglected to date at a national level in Australia.
I believe this year’s theme for reconciliation requires acknowledgement: Acknowledgement that there has been a failure to move the needle in many areas related to Indigenous outcomes and in fact some are getting worse; Acknowledgement that this failure to impact outcomes has occurred despite decades of policy interventions relevant to this context where governments haven’t conceded to policy failure; Acknowledgement of the suite of opportunities for us to collectively improve outcomes for future generations; Acknowledgement that together we can strive to approach Indigenous issues from a strengths-based logic looking for social capital, opportunities for codesign in terms of funding and sustainability and opportunities to build on community led programs. I am excited to continue my work and studies and contribute to a national journey towards true reconciliation and giving Voice to Indigenous peoples.
Dr Brett Shannon is an Occupational and Environmental Registrar (Royal Australasian College of Physicians), receiving his Bachelor of Medicine/Bachelor of Surgery from the University of Queensland. He also completed a Master of Applied Epidemiology at the Australian National University and is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors course. He is a proud Ngugi/Quandamooka descendant and in 2020 completed his term as Chairperson of the Brisbane Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Health Service. With his John Monash Scholarship, Brett is undertaking a PhD at the University of Illinois – Chicago, on the topic of occupational injuries. In 2022 his research on Indigenous occupational health will be published in the British Medical Journal and he has been invited to share his findings at the International Congress of Occupational Health, Australian and New Zealand Society of Occupational Medicine and World Injury Prevention conferences.
Karri Walker, 2023 Victorian Government John Monash Scholar
I am a proud Nyiyaparli woman. My mob is from the East Pilbara region of Western Australia and I was born and raised on the lands of the Wurundjeri-Woi Wurrung people. I stand on the shoulders of the warriors who have come before me.
I was drawn to the law having witnessed the injustices inflicted upon my family through the law. However, I have also witnessed the legal system’s powerful potential to provide redress and uphold justice for First Peoples.
This is what the Voice is all about – it is about giving effect to our inherent rights that we hold as the First Peoples of this country. The Voice will enable First Peoples to have a say on matters that affect our communities, culture and Country.
Later this year, all Australians will be asked whether they support an alteration to the Constitution to establish a First Peoples’ Voice that will make representations to the Parliament and the Executive on matters that relate to First Peoples.
We are at a pivotal moment in history. This year’s theme ‘Be a Voice for Generations’ recognises that all Australians have a role to play in achieving true reconciliation. We need all people to amplify the voices of First Peoples and build momentum and support for the Voice. This is a journey that we must all walk together. In doing so, we can work towards achieving a better nation – one that restores First Peoples to our rightful place in this country and celebrates the richness of our culture.
Keep up the momentum and be a voice for change.
Karri is a Senior Lawyer at the First Peoples' Assembly of Victoria working on securing ground-breaking reform through the nation's first Treaty process. Prior to joining the Assembly, Karri worked as a commercial lawyer at Arnold Bloch Leibler. She is deeply committed to justice and self-determination and sits on the Board of Fitzroy Legal Service and the Advisory Council of the Indigenous Law and Justice Hub at Melbourne Law School. As a John Monash Scholar, Karri will pursue a Master of Laws at Harvard University to explore how the law can be used to empower disadvantaged communities and how this could be deployed in Australia. Her goal is to pursue structural reform which gives First Peoples the power and authority to make decisions on issues that affect the First Peoples community.