More than a word: ANU Law students take action

National Reconciliation Week
ANU Law students Shiyu Xu, Braedyn Edwards and Travis Ash all believe the law has an important role to play in the advancement of reconciliation.

The law has such an important role to play in the advancement of reconciliation and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights more broadly.

The theme for National Reconciliation Week (NRW) 2021More than a word. Reconciliation takes actionurges the reconciliation movement in Australia towards braver and more impactful action.

It also captures the driving purpose behind the work of The Australian National University (ANU) Law Reform and Social Justice (LRSJ) Indigenous Reconciliation Project.

The LRSJ Indigenous Reconciliation Project is a student-led initiative centrally focused on reform opportunities in the law, legal research projects, publications and lobbying.

Shiyu Xu and Travis Ash are part of the dedicated group of ANU Law students who run this project.

As part of her involvement in the project, Shiyu helped run the Indigenous Law Reform and Advocacy Competition: Black Lives Matters last year. This competition provided law students with the opportunity to explore unique ideas for change and law reform.

“I learned a lot from the process of assisting in holding the competition and believe those activities can make a movement in raising students’ awareness in reconciliation,” she said.

Travis was also recently involved in coordinating an online panel discussion hosted by the Indigenous Reconciliation Project which centred on the Raise the Age campaign.

“It was a privilege to listen to their dialogue, which was both depressing (coming to terms with the reality of an 11-year-old in a cell) and uplifting (not so much the optimistic hope of ‘fixing’ the problem, but the optimism derived from each of the speakers’ engagement, fight and clear articulation of the issues and what can, and what should, be done),” Travis said.

The event featured an impressive line-up of speakers and was moderated by another dedicated ANU law student, Braedyn Edwards.

Braedyn is a descendant of the Kamillaroi/Kunja peoples of Northern NSW/South West Queensland and currently works at the ANU Tjabal Indigenous Higher Education Centre.

He is the Executive Assistant for the Tjabal Centre Director, Dr Aunty Anne Martin, and also works closely with Dr Aunty Matilda House.

“I love spending time with Elders; hearing and learning from them,” he said.

In this Q&A, Braedyn, Shiyu and Travis discuss what NRW means to them and what role the law has to play in urging the reconciliation movement towards more impactful action.

What does National Reconciliation Week mean to you?

Braedyn: NRW is a time for the community as a whole to come together and reflect on how far we’ve come and how much further we have yet to go.

Shiyu: To me, it is a great opportunity to learn Australian histories and cultures. Also, through this opportunity, I can communicate with my friends exploring how to contribute to reconciliation and mutual understanding.

Travis: For the Australian community, I think National Reconciliation Week is firstly a reminder of the continuing affects of our Nation’s past on our present, and secondly, a prompt for us to reflect and engage with that past and present. For myself, it is a reminder that lip service is of little use in reconciliation, and that no matter what the week may give, the struggle is a continuing one and it does not end with Sunday coming around. In a lighter sense, it means to me encouraging those I know to seek out the wonderful Evelyn Araluen’s new book of poetry, Dropbear, which exquisitely grapples with words and action.

Why do you think this year’s theme for National Reconciliation Week is important?

Braedyn: Unfortunately, Reconciliation is a word which can evoke negative connotations; something which says ‘we’re doing something,’ without actually doing something. I think that’s why it’s so important to emphasise action. You can have all the good will in the world and people can ‘talk the talk’ when it comes to reconciliation, but without actually taking meaningful steps, nothing will be achieved.

Shiyu: This year’s theme is important because it marks the process of reconciliation from raising awareness to taking action. This theme can make people reflect on how to take action to contribute to reconciliation and do some meaningful things, rather than just advertising the importance. This is because reconciliation is not just the awareness and knowledge, but real actions and substantive changes.

Travis: Lip service to an issue such as reconciliation is harmful and insidious. I’m guilty of it – as a particularly pale Australian whose ancestors include a motley stock of Scots, Welsh and Irish, who came to Australia a few generations ago. That reconciliation takes action is a call to eschew such lip service, to constantly remind oneself that the words I speak in the name of reconciliation relate to people, living, breathing, keen thinking, and profoundly feeling people. Reconciliation, must not be, if it is to have any meaning, abstract. It must be concrete. It is seen in the eyes and heard by the ears – but to see and hear it truly requires structural change, not just a coming together story (though this is a fundamental and important step, it must also engage and prompt action). In this context, action gives meaning to our words, our words do not give meaning to our actions. This year’s theme reminds me that my words are still a ‘tinkering symbol’ and I must turn those words into substantiative action. It seems to me that action is born of listening. We must listen, not passively, but actively and take action.

What role do you think the law has in urging the reconciliation movement towards braver and more impactful action?

Braedyn: The law has such an important role to play in the advancement of reconciliation and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights more broadly. At the most base level, there’s the issue of this country’s founding document, the Constitution, not reflecting the rightful place of our mob on these lands or the true ownership of these lands.

Shiyu: The law plays a significant role in protecting the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Because law is enforceable, it can recognise their interests and prevent racism. However, because of the law’s enforceability, we cannot enforce reconciliation through enacting legislation. We need to combine multiple methods, including education, National Reconciliation Weeks, and a series of nation campaigns to contribute to true reconciliation and mutual understanding.

Travis: Towards braver action I am not sure. I think those seeking reconciliation in real terms are as brave as they can be. But so far as impactful action goes, it seems to me the law can equip the reconciliation movement with a keen eye for the details of law reform.

Find out more about ANU Law Reform and Social Justice here.

Updated:  10 August 2015/Responsible Officer:  College General Manager, ANU College of Law/Page Contact:  Law Marketing Team