Reconciliation Week 'closes the gap'

Elena Vaquera-Siles, of Nazareth Catholic Primary School, has her face painted by Jahmarley Dawson during Monday's celebrations. Picture: ADAM McLEAN

Elena Vaquera-Siles, of Nazareth Catholic Primary School, has her face painted by Jahmarley Dawson during Monday's celebrations. Picture: ADAM McLEAN

Aboriginal elders and schoolchildren gathered in Shellharbour on Monday to kick off Reconciliation Week celebrations with a march for action on ‘‘closing the gap’’.

More than 120 students participated in workshops on indigenous culture, which showcased traditional dances and artefacts.

Aboriginal elder Aunty Bev Armer, aged 70, said Reconciliation Week helped remove the stigma for indigenous people in everyday life.

‘‘When I was growing up, I lived in a tent for seven or eight years and I copped a lot of discrimination remarks over that,’’ she said.

‘‘My dad, who was a fair-skinned Aboriginal, had to get our school clothes, because Aboriginal ladies weren’t allowed to go into any store.

‘‘That’s where reconciling comes in today.’’

Nazareth Catholic Primary School’s Elena Vaquera-Siles said it was important to learn about indigenous history and culture.

‘‘I like seeing how history was in the past and how it’s changed in the future,’’ she said.

‘‘Today we’ve been seeing the warriors and the tools they used.’’

A ‘‘seven sisters’’ Aboriginal dreaming story pattern was painted on the 10-year-old’s face.

Reconciliation Australia chief executive officer Leah Armstrong said the week’s theme, ‘‘Let’s walk the talk’’, promoted action on closing the gap over rhetoric.

‘‘We want people talking about reconciliation, but while talking about reconciliation and justice is good, change only happens when it is backed up with real action,’’ she said.

Ms Armstrong said the responses from football fans to the racist abuse levelled at 2014 Australian of the Year Adam Goodes and Melbourne’s Neville Jetta was also a positive sign of real change.

The next step towards reconciliation, she said, would be the constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

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