Posted: July 4th, 2011
Wangka Maya Pilbara Aboriginal Language Centre is a language centre in South Hedland dedicated to preserving and teaching Indigenous languages of the Pilbara region. It began in 1987 when a group of Aboriginal people started recording languages that they feared were in danger of being forgotten. From its modest beginnings it has grown into a vibrant organisation with a wide range of projects and an impressive workload.
Wangka Maya’s work is driven by the urgency to record languages with few speakers before they are lost forever. “Wangka Maya’s work is very important … recording and documenting 31 languages, some with only a handful of speakers left. We have to have it on record, or else the language will be totally lost. If there are no more speakers left, how will the younger generations know how it sounds?” said Harry Taylor, current treasurer of Wangka Maya.
This sense of urgency has led Wangka Maya to prioritise languages with the fewest remaining speakers, producing wordlists and dictionaries, followed by sketch grammars which describe the use and structure of the language, and over the years, more books and resources for children.
Beyond language, Wangka Maya also records information and produces resources in the areas of history and culture, provides cultural awareness training and participates in a range of community partnerships and initiatives to promote understanding of and interest in Aboriginal language, culture and history. Wangka Maya also reconnects Pilbara and Gascoyne Aboriginal people to their families who have lost contact due to government action or other issues through the Link Up program.
Anne Sibosado, long time board member of Wangka Maya, feels a personal connection with the work of the language centre. “Growing up I wasn’t allowed to speak language in school, but it’s important to your identity. Being involved [with Wangka Maya] has helped me get my identity back… I hope the younger people will come to use [Wangka Maya’s resources], because they are our future. We want more young people to come aboard,” said Anne.
Harry Taylor believes that, “the wider Australian community is recognising language diversity more and accepting it more,” and Australia is a richer place for that.
Wangka Maya is offering a free cultural awareness training course on 7 July for NAIDOC week. For more information please visit www.wangkamaya.org.au or call 9172 2344.
Across Australia every July, NAIDOC Week celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. In honour of NAIDOC 2011 YMAC is featuring a series of Aboriginal people and organisations that contribute to the vibrant Aboriginal culture of the Midwest and Pilbara. For more information on NAIDOC including its history and events happening near you, visit http://www.naidoc.org.au/ .