Goldfields Aboriginal Language Centre

Wangka2023 Conference Wraps Up

The fabulous Wangka Kanyilku, Wangkawa: Decolonising First Nation’s Languages Conference 2023 ran in Kalgoorlie from 24-26 October.

The event was an outstanding success with language speakers, workers, educators, linguistic and supporters coming from across WA and interstate to meet and discuss ways of revitalising and decolonising languages.

Western Australian First Nations conference delegates called for State Aboriginal languages legislation to stop the loss of languages and to framework linguistic rights.

The Goldfields Aboriginal Languages Centre Abor. Corp. (GALCAC) held a First Nation’s language conference in Kalgoorlie 24-26 October 2023. The theme of the conference was Language Decolonisation and Rejuvenation: Survive, Revive, Thrive. The conference was opened by WA State Minister Dr. Tony Buti, and attended by Hon. Kyle McGinn MLC, Ali Kent MLA and Hon. Wilson Tucker MLC.

The conference participants ended the conference with a call for

1. National and WA State Aboriginal languages legislation which frameworks First Nations linguistic rights, language protection, and data sovereignty.

2. Native tongue title and the right to compensation for linguicide (forced loss of language).

3. Recognition of Australia’s First Nation’s languages as official languages of the country.

The conference was an inspiring event which brought together language speakers and linguists working in the field of First Nations language use, preservation and documentation from across WA and interstate. Key note addresses and a wide variety of academic papers, talks and workshops were presented. Many First Nations peoples used the opportunity to present their first paper or talk.

Keynote speaker, Professor Peter Yu, opened the conference with a powerful key note address calling on language speakers to take ownership of their language to ensure it goes forward to the next generation. Professor Yu advised speakers to stop asking for other people to save their languages, and do this themselves by speaking and teaching language in the home. He encouraged people to take political action as loss of languages was about power and control, to seize back this control. This action includes a call for WA State Aboriginal Languages legislation, similar to the NSW Aboriginal Languages Act 2017, and National legislation.

The second keynote speaker, Denise Smith-Ali OAM, provided a heart-felt address of her own decades long journey of language reconnection and empowerment through helping her Noongar people to reclaim their linguistic rights. Ms. Smith-Ali called for people to, ‘invest in our young speakers.’

Professor Ghil’ad Zuckermann provided a closing key note address highlighting the international colonial linguistic field and renewed a call for linguistic rights to be enshrined in legislation, which would lead to language sovereignty, data sovereignty and cease the colonial processes of linguicide. Professor Zuckermann spoke about native tongue title as a process of ensuring language sovereignty. Native tongue title would empower First Nation’s speech communities to undertake class actions on linguicide which would provide proper funding for work on each language. This funding would provide agency for First Nations speech communities with regards to their languages.

The first published Ngadju language dictionary was launched on the final day of the conference, following 18 years of work on the language. Ngadju Elder, Les Schultz, stated, ‘this is our language, our identify, and it makes me proud that our young people will take it forward.’

GALCAC has committed to holding a conference every second year with the next planned for 21-23 October 2025 in Kalgoorlie.

Photos from the conference can be found on GALCAC’s Facebook page. 

For further info head into the Goldfields Aboriginal Language Centre on Burt St, Boulder, or phone on (08)9021 3788 or email

WA State Minister Dr. Tony Buti opens the conference

The Hon. Kyle McGinn MLC addresses the conference

Ngadju Elder, James Schultz, proudly holds the Ngadju Dictionary

Professor Ghil’ad Zuckermann key note address day 3

Professor Peter Yu provided a powerful day 1 key note address

Tjupan children welcomed the delegates to the Goldfields region

Bardi-Jawi woman, Ada Hanson was the conference MC.

Delegates to the conference

Miriwoong Language Centre delegates present to the conference

Key note speaker day 2, Ms. Denise Smith-Ali, speaks with linguist Brian Hadfield.

Michael Smith raises a point for discussion during question time