Australians are this week celebrating National Reconciliation Week.
If not for the COVID-19 crisis, the NRL would be preparing for the popular Indigenous Round this weekend.
Even without the Indigenous Round, the rugby league community is recognizing the key role the game has played, and continues to play, in bringing all Australians together.
Katrina Fanning is the Chair of the Australian Rugby League Indigenous Council and the 2020 ACT Australian of the Year.
Fanning has been involved in rugby league for over 25 years, as a player, mentor and leader. She has worked tirelessly in the Indigenous and rugby league communities, and last year was appointed on the Canberra Raiders board.
She has seen lots of development within the Indigenous rugby league community during her time, and says that the growth of Indigenous carnivals has been particularly pleasing.
“The growth in our community carnivals is an opportunity, they call it the modern-day corroboree, for people from all areas and all different nations to come together. Rugby league is the thing that brings us together but it also helps us to celebrate, reconnect and to share between our cultures as well,” Fanning said.
“So that’s certainly gotten significantly larger over the last decade and now has a lot more support from the main parts of the game in making sure that the carnivals can cope with the sort of numbers they get now.
“But I also think rugby league’s gotten it’s voice and allowed the sport to be proud of its history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and to let them shine not just as football players but as people.”
A proud Wiradjuri woman, Fanning says National Reconciliation Week is an important time to look back and acknowledge how far we have come.
“I think it’s a great opportunity to reflect on our shared history and to step through that together and just to remind ourselves of what the journey has been so far,” Fanning said.
“Whenever there’s an inequality between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the rest of Australia, we need to remind ourselves why and some of the things that created that inequality and hopefully into the future it’ll be a chance to say how far we’ve come that that’s no longer an issue for us.”
This year’s theme is “In This Together”, thought of long before the COVID-19 pandemic, but one that remains true across communities, with rugby league leading the way.
“At the moment we are all going through the same experience and that’s really unusual in Australia and globally to experience the same thing at the same time. Usually it’s some people experience some things so it’s interesting perspective once we are all in the same position, we start to see each other all as people and understand what we are going through,” Fanning said.
“But I also think rugby league, in a lot of ways, has paved the way in relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. I think “In This Together” really is a strong statement of what rugby league has been for a long time and what the rest of the community could be as well.”
Katrina Fanning is also participating in the annual CEO Sleepout as Chairperson of the ACT aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body.
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