Delegates during the Goldfields Aboriginal Language Centre’s Wangka Kanyilku, Wangkawa Language Conference last month.
Delegates at a Kalgoorlie-Boulder language conference have called for national and State legislation to protect First Nations’ languages and provide a framework for linguistic rights.
The Goldfields Aboriginal Language Centre hosted its inaugural Wangka Kanyilku, Wangkawa Language Conference across three days last month.
It took place at Curtin University’s Kalgoorlie Conference Centre and featured three keynote speakers along with a full program of presentations and workshops centred around the Survive, Revive, Thrive theme.
The conference was opened by Aboriginal Affairs Minister Tony Buti on October 24 and brought together language speakers and linguists working in the field of First Nations language use, preservation and documentation from across the country.
In a statement, the GALC said the conference participants ended the conference with a call for “national and State Aboriginal languages legislation which frameworks First Nations linguistic rights, language protection, and data sovereignty”.
The language centre said participants also called for “native tongue title and the right to compensation for linguicide” and “recognition of Australia’s First Nations’ languages as official languages of the country”.
Keynote speakers and a variety of academic papers, talks and workshops were presented during the event.
Professor Peter Yu gives his keynote address during the conference.
Keynote speaker Professor Peter Yu opened the conference with an address calling on language speakers to take ownership of their language to ensure it goes forward to the next generation.
Professor Yu advised speakers to stop asking for other people to save their languages and do this themselves by speaking and teaching language in the home.
He encouraged people to take political action as loss of languages was about power and control, so they should seize back this control.
This included a call for State Aboriginal languages legislation, similar to the NSW Aboriginal Languages Act 2017, and national legislation.
The second keynote speaker was Denise Smith-Ali.
She provided a heart-felt address of her own decades-long journey of language reconnection and empowerment through helping her Noongar people to reclaim their linguistic rights.
Ms Smith-Ali called for people to “invest in our young speakers”.
Professor Ghil’ad Zuckermann provided a closing keynote address.
Professor Ghil’ad Zuckermann gives his keynote address during the conference.
Professor Zuckermann highlighted the international colonial linguistic field and renewed a call for linguistic rights to be enshrined in legislation, which would lead to language sovereignty, data sovereignty and cease the colonial processes of “linguicide”.
Professor Zuckermann spoke about native tongue title as a process of ensuring language sovereignty.
He said native tongue title would empower First Nations’ speech communities to undertake class actions on linguicide which would provide proper funding for work on each language.
This funding would provide agency for First Nations speech communities with regards to their languages.
On the final day of the conference, the GALC’s Ngadju to English Dictionary: Traditional Version was unveiled.
The 172-page publication features information about the Ngadju people, an English-to-Ngadju language guide, and sketch grammar to help readers to use Ngadju words in a sentence.
Ngadju people James and Valma Schultz had worked closely with the GALC for the past 11 years to produce the dictionary and celebrated its launch.
Ngadju elder Les Schultz could not attend the launch but sent a video message which was played during the event.
“This is our language, our identify, and it makes me proud that our young people will take it forward,” he said
GALC has committed to holding a conference every second year with the next planned for October 2025 in Kalgoorlie-Boulder.
Valma Schultz and James Schultz during the launch of the Ngadju Dictionary last month. Credit: Margaret Ellen Burns