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ABS celebrates NAIDOC Week and the diversity of Indigenous languages

5 Jul 2017

Media release

NAIDOC Week is a time to celebrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, history, culture and achievements, while recognising the immense contributions that Indigenous Australians make to our great country.

The 2017 NAIDOC Week theme “Our Languages Matter” highlights the unique and essential role Australian Indigenous languages contribute to cultural identity including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, spirituality and rites, through story and song.

“The ABS collects a wide range of information on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, encompassing culture and language, education, employment, housing, income, and law and justice issues,” 2016 Census Director Anthony Grubb said.

The results of the 2016 Census of Population and Housing show that one in 10 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people speak an Indigenous language at home. There were over 170 Indigenous languages and language families reported on the Census, of which 69 had at least 100 speakers.

The most reported Indigenous language was Kriol, with almost 7,200 speakers, and was most common in Western Australia (2,400 speakers), predominantly in the West Kimberley region, and the Northern Territory (4,400 speakers), mainly from in and around the town of Katherine.

In the nation’s North East, 5,900 usual residents of Queensland reported speaking Yumplatok (Torres Strait Creole) out of a total of 6,200 nationally.

The 2016 Census also found that Indigenous languages are far more common outside of Greater Capital City Areas, with 93 per cent of people who speak an Indigenous language at home residing outside of the state and territory capitals.

Only 1.9 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in Greater Capital City Areas spoke an Indigenous language, compared with 14.3 per cent of those living outside state and territory capitals.

The highest prevalence of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people speaking an Indigenous language was seen in the Indigenous regions of Nhulunbuy (NT) with 91 per cent, Jabiru-Tiwi (NT) with 85 per cent, followed by Apatula (NT) and Torres Strait (QLD) with 78 per cent.

“The data collected through the Census is supplemented by other key statistical publications released periodically,” Mr Grubb said. “Collectively, they provide key indicators to assist driving effective policy that benefits the Indigenous communities of Australia.”

The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS), a separate statistical collection to the Census, also includes detailed information on languages spoken, but also reports on cultural identification and participation.

Data taken from the 2014-15 NATSISS showed around six in 10 (62 per cent) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over identified with a clan, tribal or language group (79 per cent in remote areas compared with 58 per cent in non-remote areas).

It also found almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over, and 75 per cent of children aged four to 14 years, had been involved in selected cultural events, ceremonies or organisations in the previous 12 months, showing a strong cultural engagement among young Indigenous Australians.

If you’d like to know more, a wide range of 2016 Census data relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can be found on the ABS website.

NAIDOC Week is celebrated July 2-9 2017. For more information: http://www.naidoc.org.au/

Find out more

Visit the Australian Bureau of Statistics website to view the original media release.