If you have ever tried to communicate with someone speaking a foreign language, you may have some insight into how Aborignal people in remote communities feel in their own country.
The importance, resilience and richness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages is the focus of NAIDOC Week this year.
Jawoyn Association chairperson Lisa Mumbin said her people are at risk of losing their native tongue.
“It was a flashlight for me when I saw this theme, Our Languages Matter, the reason I say that, is because when I was growing up, our language was still very strong,” Ms Mumbin said.
“I can only speak for my tribe, the Jawoyn people, but when you look today, our language is hardly spoken and there is a big gap that needs to be patched between generations.
“Our kids have been taken away from our culture because in our society today there are mobile phones, television and video games, our kids are so attracted to it and addicted to it.”
Ms Mumbin said younger people in the community have lost interest in learning about traditional customs.
“They are forgetting our natural and cultural way of living, they are not living a normal life,” Ms Mumbin said.
“My husband speaks very strongly in language but our kids are so ignorant to it.
“Elders are sick of the young ones being ignorant and not caring, but when they get to maturity they will realise what they have missed out on learning.”
In my time going to school I learnt about Captain Cook, I would have rather learnt about my culture and my language.Lisa Mumbin
Ms Mumbin said the loss of language skills would affect the Jawoyn people in the long run.
“For the last couple of days I sat down with the Jawoyn dictionary and thesaurus, all of our links to country and our sacred sites, it is all written down there,” she said.
“But how many kids will come back and read these books and learn the languages?
“I fear that it won’t happen, we have to enforce that our language is spoken again or we will lose it.”
The Traditional Owner said the Jawoyn language had been diluted throughout the years.
“When my elders speak to me, I understand it, but I only speak half of it, now it is a blend from here and there,” Ms Mumbin said.
“It is all twisted now because you have Kriol which has taken over our language, it is like broken down English spoken all around the Katherine region.
“But our Jawoyn language is still alive, it is still there but it just is not as strong as in my time growing up and it is not spoken every day.”
Ms Mumbin said traditional languages are not taught in schools and more effort should be made to include Aboriginal history into the curriculum.
“In my time going to school I learnt about Captain Cook, I would have rather learnt about my culture and my language,” she said.
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“The Jawoyn people were a big tribe and the country covered 55,000 square kilometres and in that boundary there were about 52 clans,” she said.
“We are now down to 18 or 22 clans, that is a significant amount of clan groups that have died out.
“Today Jawoyn is still strong in our law and in our culture, we still practice our culture and it is deep within our hearts.
“I am grateful to sit here and lead our organisation and it is an honour to be a part of a tribe that is so strong.”
More about the NAIDOC Week theme
The 2017 NAIDOC theme celebrates the essential role languages play in cultural identity, linking people to their land and water and in the transmission of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, spirituality and rites, through story and song.
Some 250 distinct Indigenous language groups covered the continent at first (significant) European contact in the late eighteenth century, and many of those languages had several dialects.
Today only around 120 of those languages are still spoken and many are at risk of being lost as Elders pass on.
National NAIDOC Committee co-chair Anne Martin said languages are the breath of life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the theme will raise awareness of the status and importance of Indigenous languages across the country.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait languages are not just a means of communication, they express knowledge about everything, law, geography, history, family and human relationships, philosophy, religion, anatomy, childcare, health, caring for country, astronomy, biology and food.” Ms Martin said.
“Each language is associated with an area of land and has a deep spiritual significance and it is through their own languages, that Indigenous nations maintain their connection with their ancestors, land and law.”
Committee co-chair Benjamin Mitchell hopes the theme will shine a spotlight on the programs and community groups working to preserve, revitalise or record Indigenous languages, and encourage all Australians to notice the use of Indigenous languages in their community.
“There is currently a wave of activity, with people in many communities working to learn more about their language, and to ensure they are passed on to the next generation before it is too late,” Mr Mitchell said.
“Nationally, many place names for our suburbs, rivers, mountains and parks are Indigenous language words, noticing and paying attention to these words will generate greater appreciation and respect for the significance of language among all Australians.
"The preservation and revitalisation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages - the original languages of this nation - is the preservation of priceless treasure, not just for Indigenous peoples, but for everyone."