Tyahn Bell, a young Ngunnawal woman of Yass, explains why continuing to fly the Aboriginal Flag at Yass Memorial Hall is critical for Aboriginal youth in Yass, and why its removal would have serious consequences.

Mayor Allan McGrath’s decision to permanently fly the Aboriginal Flag at Memorial Hall was met with opposition from some councillors and community members, including a rescission motion against the Mayoral Minute decision. While the flag remains at Memorial Hall while community consultation takes place, its future there is uncertain. 

“We’re a part of the community. Especially the youth, we are the next generation of emerging elders,” said Tyahn. 

“If the Aboriginal flag is taken down, it will definitely impact the Aboriginal community and its youth negatively.”

She explained that for Aboriginal people, the flag represents their relationship with the land, and has importance because sovereignty was never ceded.

“It highlights that we are still here. It is still Aboriginal land— stolen land.”

Aboriginal National flag flying in front of Yass Soldiers’ Memorial Hall

Tyahn said the flag helps build a stronger identity for future generations of Aboriginal Australians. 

“In my culture, things are passed down through generations. Identity is a really big part of who we are, it goes along with our spiritual health and our connection to country.”

“Having that flag is knowing who you are,” she said.

Tyahn said that she feels Aboriginal identity is often used for professional agendas within organisations, during NAIDOC or Reconciliation Week, when the flag is flown for only a few days out of the year. 

“It feels like we’re recognised then to fit an agenda, whereas if the flag flies the whole year, it’s more meaningful. It won’t be as if our identity is being used, just to tick a box,” she explained. 

“Reconciliation is every day of the week, not just those times that the government decided it should be nationally recognised.”

Now that the Aboriginal community in Yass has seen the beginnings of a permanent Aboriginal flag at Memorial Hall, Tyahn said that its removal would feel like a “stab in the back” from council. 

Ngunnawal Elders Lillian Bell and Brad Bell raise the flag during NAIDOC week 2022

She added that it would be especially disappointing as during NAIDOC ceremonies or other cultural ceremonies, representatives from Yass Valley Council attend and and join those activities where Aboriginal Australians showcase their culture. 

Tyahn has heard several comments that a permanent Aboriginal Flag at Memorial Hall is unnecessary as “we are all the same.”

“Those comments are really colourblind,” she responded. 

“It’s a very uneducated thing to say, because we’re not the same. We’ve got different value systems, customs, and traditions. We have a whole different language. So, we’re not the same, and we’ll never be the same,  because we are a different people.”

Tyahn explained that from a human rights perspective, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australian are, again, not the same. 

“We’re fighting for things that non-Aboriginal people have. Currently we’re fighting for a voice in Parliament. If we were the same, this wouldn’t be happening.”

Tyahn encourages Mayor McGrath and supporting councillors to keep persevering to fly a permanent Aboriginal flag at Memorial Hall. 

“The whole Aboriginal community supports Mayor McGrath,” she said. 

“Sometimes, people aren’t always going to like your ideas, even when they’re right.”

“My Dad always said, when it comes to a cultural standpoint, always be loud and proud, even when the room is silent.”

Tyahn advises Council and the community to “get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

For some, that might look like standing firm, even when uncomfortable, against those opposing a permanent Aboriginal flag. For others, it might mean accepting the process of reconciliation even when change feels uncomfortable. 

Tyahn’s ideas for improvements for Aboriginal Australians in Yass doesn’t stop at the Memorial Hall. She hopes to see more Aboriginal systems of values and beliefs incorporated within the community. 

“That might mean bilingual language displays, having cultural practices, being supported, feeling heard and recognised,” Tyahn said. 

“What comes of that is not working for Aboriginal people, but empowering them to work with the community. I think that’s the next step.”

Photo at top – Tyahn Bell – photo courtesy of ABC

Southerly Jones