Between 3-5 March 2017, Wik, Guugu Yimidhirr and Mpakwithi Ancestral Language Action Teams (ALAT)-facilitated by Jan Goetesson, Xavier Barker and Louise Ashmore-presented papers on their ancestral language revitalisation projects at the fifth International Conference for Language Documentation and Conservation (ICLDC5) in Hawaii.

At the ICLDC5, first nations from all over the world met to learn from each other about how they are all solving the same problem.

Lillian Bowen and Jan Goetesson of the Guugu Yimidhir ALAT presented with Harold Ludwick from the Hope Vale Community Ranger Program on Guugu Yimidhirr language revitalisation in the Hope Vale School, and on the importance of speaking ancestral languages with our children in our homes and daily lives.

Lillian began their presentation, Yirrgii Guugu Yimidhirrbi gurra nganhdaan gaban balgl Guugu Yimidhirrbi (Speak Guugu Yimidhirr and we will write Guugu Yimidhirr: language revitalisation with children), by introducing herself to the conference in Guugu Yimidhirr and demonstrating her language-teaching methods.

The audience was impressed by her teaching materials and was keen to buy copies of her read-aloud e-book, Gudaa Bula Oyugi. Xavier Barker, Agnes Mark, Victoria Kennedy and Susan Kennedy (of the Mpalkwithi ALAT) also gave a presentation at the Conference, entitled Vindication for the Mpakwithi First Nation through language revival.

Their presentation demonstrated the importance of language revitalisation for the recognition and wellbeing of first nations. In particular, they told the story of the loss and revitalisation of the Mpakwithi language based on the songs of Don Fletcher, grandfather of today’s Mpakwithi Elders, Agnes, Victoria and Susan.

The Aurukun ALAT, Mavis Ngalametta, Vera Koomeeta and Ada Woolla, with Artist/Art Therapist Gina Allain and PLC Linguist Louise Ashmore, presented a paper titled Painted Stories: Linking country, art and culture for language revival, which considered the role of art in the transmission of cultural and linguistic knowledge.

The talk explored the potential for combining art therapy, language documentation and oral­history methods in reconnecting community, country and language in first nation language revival work. Notions of wellbeing and the relationship with country, language and creative practices were explored in discussions about the outcome of the projects (Oonyawa: From Museum back to Country and Painted Stories and Life Stories).

The Aurukun ALAT’s presence at the conference was appreciated by everyone and their presentation was a great success, with the ladies ending their session with a song in Wik-Mungkan.

Participating in conferences and cultural intercourses like these are of great importance to First Nations peoples who learn that it is not only possible to maintain their ancestral languages and culture alongside those of the dominant group, but that it is possible for the dominant groups to also adopt a sense of obligation and enthusiasm toward becoming bi-cultural and bi­lingual and to better understand the First Nations whose lands they occupy.