This week Australians focused on Harper Nielsen, a nine year old student who refused to stand and sing the national anthem because she feels that it excludes Aboriginal People. As the story appeared in the media Aboriginal people around the country braced themselves for the racist hate that would undoubtedly be thrown their way.
Sure enough social media quickly filled with people’s opinions, with the majority of people who commented suggesting that Harper is the problem, rather than the out of date song she is protesting. Accusations about her being brainwashed and her parents not teaching her respect were quickly followed by the usual vitriol about Aboriginal people needing to ‘get over it’, being ‘dole bludgers’ and other inaccurate stereotypes fuelled by misinformation and lack of education. It was exhausting to read. It’s hard to be an Aboriginal person in this country sometimes with so much disdain directed at our people.
Another common theme in the comments was the thought that Harper was too young to come up with this stance on her own and that adults, most likely her parents, were behind the political statement. This view completely underestimates the intelligence and ability of children. Kids are very capable of considering issues and choosing a stance themselves. They are ready to be given information and an opportunity to form and share their own views and they deserve for these views to be respected. They won’t always get it right, but none of us do. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be given the opportunity to express our views or that we should not take the stand we believe in.
Standing up for what we believe in is important. As long as it is done respectfully, I support students who want to make a stand, particularly when it comes to Aboriginal issues in this country. We need kids today to start thinking about these issues so that in the future we have a generation of adults who are informed and can drive change. We need to have open discussions about the tough issues and teach kids to have these conversations in a respectful way. We need to make sure we are arming them with facts and accurate information to back their views. We as adults need to be able to respond to the arguments that we don’t agree with in a respectful way, something that many adults have failed at this last week.
Harper is not alone in choosing not to participate in the National Anthem. Many people make that decision every day for a range of reasons and it doesn’t cause the upset that it has this week. She is also not alone in thinking that we need to consider how well the national anthem reflects who we are as a country now. Victorian Supreme Court Judge, Peter Vickery, has previously been vocal about the exclusion of Aboriginal People from the National Anthem, founding the Recognition in Anthem Project to drive a change. You can check out the work they are doing on their website https://www.rap.org.au/.
Regardless of your views on the Anthem, the exclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People from our national song is surely something that we need to address.
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