When a close friend asks me in a whispered voice… “What is it like being Indigenous in Australia?“, I describe a life lived in two worlds. It’s like there is a conflict in the back of my consciousness. It’s as if my identity as an Indigenous Australian is locked in a never-ending wrestling match with the part of my identity that connects me to the wider Australian community.
Every year after New Year’s Day, I think about the weeks ahead and I feel a knot in my stomach. I prepare myself for the emotional internal battle that lies ahead over Australia’s most controversial public holiday, January 26, Australia Day.
For as long as I can remember, long before it came into the public consciousness like it has today, my family always referred to January 26 as Invasion Day. And so for me, it has always been an appropriate time to remember and reflect on the past and current injustices against First Nations’ people. Not only have I experienced discrimination in rental housing, and when engaging with certain police in my hometown, I have marched and attended many protest rallies for the rights of First Nations’ people.
At the same time, I am so grateful for the opportunities given to me and the freedoms that we have in this lucky country … even though this term feels loaded, as some are more lucky than others.
I am grateful for the advantages of being an Australian citizen and a participant in our vibrant economy. I love my mortgaged home and enjoy the work I do in my community. To celebrate this, I have hosted many Australian Day BBQ’s and even run in my local Australia Day Fun Run for many years.
Cultural cognitive dissonance?
My only solution to this internal battle is embracing a sense of cultural cognitive dissonance. This is the mental discomfort from holding two conflicting beliefs, values, or attitudes at the same time. I certainly identify strongly as Australian but still recognise parts of our shameful history that were never resolved, and still cause pain today. It is possible for me to identify as an Indigenous Australian while being grateful for the opportunities and freedoms I have living in regional Australia.
Many of us are so uncomfortable with the idea of cognitive dissonance around Australia Day we reject any argument that threatens both (or either) of these two perspectives, with many of us swinging to extremes on either ends. Can we find the courage to face the discomfort of holding these truths together? I believe this pain of cognitive dissonance is one that many Indigenous people carry. The cost of living in two worlds. Is it possible you could open your worldview to exploring an alternate perspective around our national holiday, even in the face of discomfort?
The path forward…
There is still much debate and national discussion about Australia Day. Personally, I would celebrate Australia Day on the day we became a federation and established the Australian Government, 1st January 1901. But until that day I am committed to walking this journey with my community, and with my fellow Australians, in between these worlds, with the heart, strength and love God gives me.
About the author:
Joshua Lane is a Christian, a First Nations Australian, and Cultural Lead with SU Australia. He is passionate about working alongside Indigenous and multicultural communities and churches, fostering meaningful and positive engagement as part of our ongoing commitment to seeing every child, young person and family across Australia discovering life. Joshua has been an SU chaplain since 2007, and currently serves as House Chaplain with the National Rugby League’s Cowboys House.