National Close the Gap Day 2019 marks 10 years of the campaign and International Year for Indigenous Languages is a great time to recognise how language contributes to these aims.

21 March 2019

The aim of the campaign is to close the gap in health and life expectancy outcomes between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians within a generation.

Maintaining and reviving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages has an integral part to play. Language is closely linked to culture, identity, heritage, Country and The Dreaming.

One organisation working toward a future where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language communities have full command of their languages and can use them as much as they wish is First Languages Australia (FLA).

FLA’s philosophy is that ‘the living voices of our past give strength to our future.’

‘All through my childhood there was just this black hole within me and I didn't know what it was, and I tried many different things as young kids do to just try and fill that void up. But it wasn't until I actually found my mother tongue, and I then understood how that all fitted in with my ancestry. Through language I discovered my ancestry,’ FLA’s Geoff Anderson said.

‘To regain access to your language and revive your language fills a big gap. It reinvigorates a community. It brings in a new sense of belonging and connection to your history and your culture. All of your stories, connections, history is told through language. It is central to culture because it carries all the information, knowledge and systems that we use to pass on to the next generation,’ FLA’s Paul Paton said.

‘Through our languages we get to hear and we get to talk with the birds, the animals. It's not just person-to-person. The wind is language, the wind has song, singing across the desert, across the sand dunes. Water hitting the rocks as it hits the shore, that is language,’ FLA’s Daryn McKenny said.

‘Why do languages matter? Because that's where our soul is. That's how we tell our stories. If we can't speak in our own language, how can anyone actually understand us? How can we tell the stories that were passed down forever and ever in someone else's language? We have to speak from our heart in our own language,’ FLA’s Faith Baisden said.

Daryn sums up the importance of language, ‘it is important to our wellbeing, our health and it's part of healing’.

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