Cassie Leatham and a group of children who participated in a weaving workshop as part of TLaWC NAIDOC Week events 2019. Ms Leatham will run a weaving workshop for adults and kids this year from 7-9pm on Wednesday July 7.

After Reconciliation Week events in May 2021 were thwarted due to Victoria’s circuit-breaker lockdown, regional Victorian Indigenous communities are relishing the return of NAIDOC Week, from July 4 to 11, with a range of events.

Mitchell Shire Council has this year partnered with Seymour Local Aboriginal Network to host an event taking over the exhibition shed at Seymour’s King’s Park on July 7.

While the network usually hosts a parade through town, chair Bobbie Pepper said even though NAIDOC Week won’t look the same as previous years, she was excited to be able to celebrate after last year’s cancellation.

“This is something that we’ve done every year and then unfortunately because of COVID last year we weren’t able to run it,” she said.

“We have been very touched and with the new [COVID-19 restriction] announcements, we’re ecstatic that we get to go ahead.”

The reimagined free event, from 11.30 to 2pm, will feature a range of food and craft stalls, as well as stalls from a variety of health and community services, emergency services and the army.

Family-friendly activities include tie-dying, weaving, circus skills and storytelling all based around this year’s theme: ‘heal country, heal our nation’. The theme alludes to Country being inherent to Indigenous identity and often spoken about as a loved one. This year focuses on seeking greater protections for land, waters and sacred sites from exploitation, desecration and destruction.

Mitchell Shire Mayor Rhonda Sanderson said the event was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the cultures, traditions and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on Wurundjeri and Taungurung land.

“We work closely with our local Aboriginal community through many ongoing partnerships, programs and strategic planning. Our vision is to build an inclusive, equitable and well-connected community, based on the principle of fairness for all,” she said.

Ms Pepper encouraged residents to take the opportunity to connect with the community.

“NAIDOC is a time for everybody to celebrate our culture, not just us, and people come from far and wide for this event, so to have it here we’re just feeling so supported,” she said.

“Give it a go, it’s the most amazing event. The little yarns and conversations that you get to have with people are amazing. That shed comes alive with such positive energy and everyone has such a great time.”

The Murrindindi Shire has also supported the Taungurung Land and Waters Council in hosting more than a dozen events at the Y Water Discovery Centre in Yea across the week.

Taungurung woman Angela ten Buuren has curated an exhibition, which uses diorama to depict the changes of land use from Indigenous people, through exploration, colonisation and resource exportation, to current day practices.

“I’ve tried to capture the history of our nation from the explorers … and just how the land has been used since colonisation, and then through to what we’re doing to start to heal country today,” she said.

“Through that I’m telling the story of my people, the Taungurung, as well, that our people never left their country. We’re still here.”

To kick off the week on Sunday July 4, Taungurung man Shane Monk will perform a smoking ceremony at 10.30am, before demonstrating how Taungurung people cut bark off a tree, without damaging it, to make a coolamon carrying vessel. The ceremony will be followed by a barbecue lunch featuring kangaroo sausages and burgers, and children’s art activities.

Among the other events will be a puppet show for kids called Spike the Echidna and a weaving class with Cassie Leatham on Wednesday July 7; an evening environmental talk with drinks and nibbles on Friday July 9; a tour of the Yea Wetlands on Saturday July 10; and an open forum discussing treaty on the Sunday.

To find the full TLaWC NAIDOC program, visit www.ywatercentre.com.au/news/item/57-naidoc-week. More information about the Seymour Local Aboriginal Network is available at www.facebook.com/seymourlocalaboriginalnetwork/.

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