AIATSIS CEO Wrap Up of 2019

Monday, 23 December 2019

I want to take this opportunity as people head on a well-deserved break, to wish all AIATSIS members, partners, supporters and staff a wonderful Christmas and happy New Year. It has been a very busy year for AIATSIS with many successful activities.

2019 was of course the International Year of Indigenous Languages, focusing efforts and building momentum for the revitalisation and celebration of Indigenous languages worldwide. During 2019 the Institute had 6 Aboriginal language dictionaries published, hosted the highly successful inaugural Paper and Talk summit, further developed the Austlang database and saw our foyer space transformed by Community in the exhibition Ngalipa Nyangu Jaru: Pirrjirdi Ka Ngalpa Mardani (Our Language: Keeping Us Strong). To cap the year off in spectacular style on December 18 the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution proclaiming and International Decade of Indigenous Languages from 2022-2032. As co-Chair of the UNESCO steering committee overseeing the IYIL 2019 I was thrilled to see this happen and am looking forward the Decade.

We also launched the first AIATSIS-curated exhibition installed in the National Museum of Australia, Ngulla Wellamunagaa: Trees that have survived and revived. This exhibition tells stories of the survival, continuity and diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, using materials from the extensive collections at AIATSIS and generous contributions from communities around Australia. The launch attended by 12 diplomatic Heads of Mission, showing that the stories of First Nations Australians and the work of the institute has an ever increasing global relevance.

The Return of Cultural Heritage project had a very obvious global dimension. In only 10 months, the project team worked in partnership with Aranda, Bardi Jawi, Nyamal and Gangalidda Garawa Traditional Owners, as well as the Illinois State Museum and Manchester Museum, to repatriate over 80 sacred items held overseas, back to Country. An extraordinary result for AIATSIS and for the cultural resurgence of Australia’s First Nations’ peoples.

The Institute’s work as leaders in research ethics is also gaining recognition on the world stage, as noticed during collaboration with South American Indigenous organisations in Colombia and Peru. AIATSIS is absolutely committed to improving the standards of engagement and the benefits that research can offer Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This year we have undertaken a review of the Guidelines for Ethical Research in Australian Indigenous Studies (GERAIS), in consultation with our stakeholders, to further improve and evolve GERAIS.

The breakthrough educational resource, Our Land, Our Stories, developed in partnership with Nelson: A Cengage Company, was launched in July. It has created unprecedented opportunities for school students to engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia, through the stories and contributions of the 36 Indigenous Australians who helped to create the resource and supplemented by hundreds of items from the vast AIATSIS collections.

These are just some of the highlights from the outward focused activities we undertook this year, but it is the critical everyday work of AIATSIS that goes on behind the scenes, what we loosely , and probably unhelpfully, call ‘business as usual’ that builds the platform for it. None of what we do can happen without this work and I want to thank all the  staff of AIATSIS, especially the those not often seen in the spotlight, for making everything possible this year with their daily dedication to their jobs and to the Institute’s vision, ,mission and strategy.

I am looking forward to working with you all in the New Year, where the AIATSIS theme for 2020, ‘Brilliant: Indigenous Genius Then and Now’ will permeate all of the work we do. We will celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language, engineering, agriculture, art and culture in a year that for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, will be challenging.

I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a very happy New Year.  

Last reviewed: 23 Dec 2019