Australia’s largest indigenous gathering welcomes Native American counterparts

From left: GoN’s Melonie Mathews, South Australian Attorney General Kyam Maher, GoN’s Noella Red Hawk, International Visitor Leadership Program nominee T.J. Thomas, and Ministerial Adviser Roland Ah Chee, Aug. 10. Photo by Gabrielle Connellan
From left: GoN’s Melonie Mathews, South Australian Attorney General Kyam Maher, GoN’s Noella Red Hawk, International Visitor Leadership Program nominee T.J. Thomas, and Ministerial Adviser Roland Ah Chee, Aug. 10. Photo by Gabrielle Connellan

By Gabrielle Connellan

The Yolngu people of remote Northeast Arnhem Land, in Australia’s Northern Territory, welcomed Native American representatives from the Gathering of Nations (GoN), the United States’ largest powwow, to the Garma Festival, Aug. 4, as part of a concerted Mission effort to deepen this critical community connection. The largest and most important Indigenous event in the country drew political, business, cultural and community leaders together for conversation and celebration.

Native American leaders Melonie Mathews and Noella Red Hawk visited, with assistance from a Department of State grant, and were welcomed by Yolngu leaders at this immersive grounding in First Nations history, culture and contemporary life. Their GoN event in Albuquerque is the largest powwow in the world, drawing 75,000 people to connect with the culture of more than 500 tribes. At Garma, Mathews and Red Hawk joined Australia’s inaugural ambassador for First Nations People at a public forum to share experiences around sovereignty, education, water rights, and culture. They were embraced during their time in Arnhem, from joining Prime Minister Anthony Albanese at a private dinner to participating in Yolngu women’s cultural practices.

After the event, Mathews described it as “an experience beyond words.”

As Australia envisions a future with Indigenous and non-Indigenous people walking side by side, as the Yolngu say, this joining of U.S. and Australian First Nations leaders came at a pivotal time.  

A relationship that began with U.S. Ambassador to Australia Caroline Kennedy’s landmark attendance at the Garma Festival just days after her arrival at post in August 2022, and expanded with a grant-supported trip for Garma leadership to the GoN in April 2023, has deepened with this visit to Arnhem Land and now led to conversations about delegations visiting the GoN in 2024. As Mission Australia makes efforts to reach all parts of the public, including Indigenous communities, young people, and women, connections like this illustrate a genuine commitment of the U.S. government to the well-being of the world’s First Nations peoples.  

Gabrielle Connellan is head of public affairs at ConGen Melbourne.

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