Digi Youth Arts reflections on reconciliation
by Artistic Director, Alethea Beetson
Recently, we announced that Digi Youth Arts (DYA) and Jungle Love Festival (JLF) were shortlisted in the partnership category for the Queensland Reconciliation Awards. We are very proud of the work we do with Jungle Love Festival and our commitment to creating meaningful Indigenous engagement for young people at music festivals. Although we want to live in a reconciled country that respects our many nations, our relationship with the reconciliation movement is complicated.
Reconciliation has a long history and, like so many movements, it began with us. Although reconciliation has its real origin in the dispossession of our land, as noted in the State of Reconciliation report, its beginnings are found in the 1930s when William Cooper and other leaders of the ‘Aborigines Progressive Association’ gathered 1,814 signatures on a petition calling on Prime Minister Joseph Lyons and King George VI to intervene “for the preservation of our race from extinction and to grant representation to our race in the Federal Parliament”. For this long, we have petitioned for action and called for change.
If you have seen a DYA production, then you have seen a critique of the current state of reconciliation in this country. In Losing It, a play made with young people from Inala and Stradbroke Island, the tokenism inherent in some acts of reconciliation were explored. One scene saw only Indigenous students attending a school-wide reconciliation event, leading to this reflective monologue later in the script:
I was so wild on Monday - after that Reconciliation lunch. I snuck into the principal's office after school. Been doing it for years, have spare keys, know all his passwords. Found the RAP folder that has the school’s Reconciliation Action Plan in it. Bull%$%. It’s just a piece of paper. It means nothing. It is just a hollow piece of paper.
Our young people, the ones who we are trying to create a better future for, see through their school’s ‘tick-box’ Reconciliation Action Plans. They also know that genuine acts of reconciliation are worth celebrating.
DYA’s collaboration with Jungle Love Festival is a series of on-going genuine acts of reconciliation. From giving Indigenous artists space in programming, to starting the journey of working with Traditional Owners to develop a caring for country policy, to informal encounters that foster meaningful relationships. When the Co-Director of JLF, Lincoln Savage, and I attend the Queensland Reconciliation Awards ceremony in Cairns, the young people of both Brisbane-based organisations will come together that night to celebrate their reconciliation journey. No fuss. Just some burgers, chats and the kind of healing this country needs. There is no room for tokenism in genuine relationships founded on mutual respect, an open mindset and a desire to do the same thing: create inclusive spaces. DYA might be wary of the way reconciliation is being appropriated at some institutions but we are hopeful that the work we are doing alongside Jungle Love Festival will ensure that the youngest generation of this country can lead the reconciliation movement from an informed position. Both organisations are committed to the time, energy and emotional investment this kind of change requires. I am hopeful that the Indigenous young people working across Digi Youth Arts and the mostly non-Indigenous people working across Jungle Love Festival will be able to use their connection to create change.
At Jungle Love Festival 2017 we called for a treaty (or treaties) through an interactive mural. DYA and JLF collected over 1000 signatures demanding this change. The JLF audience of mostly non-Indigenous people now understand the significant role treaty plays in determining true reconciliation in this country. Like those signatures collected in the 1930s, we hope this shows the wider community there is a group of people calling for change.
Australia’s youngest generation want to have this conversation. They have petitioned for action and called for change: treaty now.
Photos LaVonne Bobongie