National Reconciliation Week (NRW), last week is a part of the vital journey towards bridging all cultures. Given my Aboriginal and Greek heritage, this endeavour holds profound significance.

There are differences between Greek communities and First Nations. Still, points of interest and commonalities exist, especially considering the vital need for equality, self-determination, and human rights.

Reconciliation is not only about one week; it’s an ongoing project. All Australians should engage with the history, cultures, and contributions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The milestones in our history are the 1967 referendum, which ensured that Indigenous Australians could be included in the Census, and the landmark 1992 Mabo High Court Ruling that overturned the concept of Terra nullius, Latin for ‘nobody’s land’. Both were cornerstones in the pursuit of equality and recognition.

This year’s theme ‘Now More Than Ever’ was particularly relevant, as I’ve heard our Aboriginal community is tired. Our elders have been battling for years. But they stay strong and determined. They show vast reservoirs of resilience.

We all need to stay connected and support each other. Less than a year has passed since the Yes campaign failed to bring an Indigenous Voice to Parliament. We have been left again without an official Voice.

It sure has been a challenging year, but our resilience needs to stand firm for each other in times like this.

The Voice was our great hope to achieve real change for our families; it failed, but that does not mean we move backwards.

Ancestors, elders and communities.

I find myself reflecting on my Greek and Aboriginal heritages. Aboriginal peoples have been here for more than 65,000 years as the oldest continuous culture in the world, intertwining this with a Hellenic culture that has profoundly influenced systems of law, politics, and philosophy.

The challenge and opportunity of reconciliation lie in harmonising these two rich heritages— Aboriginal and Greek — acknowledging their unique contributions and addressing the historical impacts.

Perhaps respect for ancient culture is needed to see Australia as it is meant to be. The recent history of our Aboriginal peoples has been challenging; the migrant journey, particularly the times of severe racism in the 60s and 70s, is nothing for a majority of Australians to be proud of.

There has been some improvement, and I am a proud Australian, but there is a long way Australia must go as a nation.

Many say Greek civilisation laid the foundation for Western society – democracy, citizenship, and the rule of law. These principles resonate deeply within our legal and political systems, guiding the pursuit of equality and justice.

Indigenous Australian identity

First Nations peoples in Australia have faced significant challenges, including dispossession and Cultural disruption. Yet, our resilience and contributions are invaluable. First Nations peoples in Australia now need the democratic system as necessary to fight for their rights, echoing the Greek ideals of equality and citizenship.

Politics is known to have been born within the Greek community. Still, isn’t politics something First Nations Australians have also known for more than 65,000 years?

Understanding and acknowledging the historical context and contributions of both cultures is crucial. Education is vital in fostering respect and appreciation for the diverse heritages that shape our nation.

Encouraging open dialogue and cultural exchange can help bridge gaps. Celebrating cultural festivals, arts, and literature from both traditions fosters mutual respect and understanding.

We are leveraging the principles of equality and justice rooted in Greek philosophy. At the same time, as First Nations Australians, we must continue advocating for our rights. The Mabo decision is a testament to this, overturning the concept of terra nullius and recognising Indigenous land rights.

Engaging communities in reconciliation efforts ensures that the process is inclusive and impactful. Programs that promote joint initiatives, such as community projects and educational exchanges, can build stronger, more unified communities.

Let community engagement, connection and identity, and language restoration continue for both First Nations and Greeks.

Reflections on reconciliation

This year’s theme was, ‘Now More Than Ever’, calls for action and unity. It emphasises that all Australians must unite to build a reconciled nation. Reconciliation is a correction and a forward-looking commitment to a better future for all Australians.

The question is, are we (re)conciling? Has there ever been true (re)conciliation ?

Let’s ensure that all First Nations peoples are respected, that their human rights are ensured and that justice is delivered.

Is it no surprise that there are many similarities between Greek and Aboriginal peoples?

Sure, there are differences, but let’s praise the recognition and appreciation for culture, community, art, music, food and more.

Forgiveness in spirit and action

Forgiveness does not mean forgetting the past but learning from it and taking action to prevent future injustices. It involves recognising past wrongs, apologising, and making concerted efforts to address ongoing disparities.

As we navigate National Reconciliation Week, let’s commit to actions that foster unity, respect, and equality.

Now, more than ever, standing together and working towards a reconciled Australia is essential. By honouring Aboriginal Cultures and the strength of Greek heritage therein vests the principles underpinning our legal and political systems, we can build a nation where every citizen is valued and empowered.

Greek Indigenous lawyer Matthew Karakoulakis based in Adelaide, was named the Australasian Law Awards’ Most Influential Leading Lawyers in Australia for 2023.