Calls for national legislation to protect Indigenous languages in Australia

Craig Ritchie, CEO of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), suggests Australia could follow in the footsteps of New Zealand, which introduced the Māori Language Act in 1987, thereby giving Māori official language status.

“Under that, every government agency has an obligation to make sure that the work that they do preserves and perpetuates the Māori language,” Mr Ritchie says.

“That might be something to think about in the legislative space.”

The Dunghutti and Biripi man was the keynote speaker at Australia’s first National Indigenous Languages Convention on the Gold Coast. Part of the federal government’s $10 million commitment to protect First Nations languages, the convention brought experts together to discuss the role of digital technology in language preservation.

Australia has been identified as one of the top five endangered language hot spots in the world. Of the estimated 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages, about 120 are still spoken, but most are severely or critically endangered.

Mr Ritchie told the crowd that Australia needed to follow New Zealand’s lead by bringing language into the public domain, making culture more visible in public spaces such as airports, and weaving simple greetings or words into news broadcasts or television programs.

“We’ll know we’ve succeeded when they’re using Aboriginal language on Home and Away,” he laughed.

Read more: SBC

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