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Introduction

Despite centuries of marginalization, neglect and prejudice, Australia’s indigenous peoples have continued to create art even through their suffering. Their innovative use of music, theater, visual arts, dance, and poetry to carry on the traditions of cultural ancestry has helped them adapt and re-invent their culture in spite of severe historical and contemporary challenges they face in Australian society. These new artistic fusions of urban, rural and traditional cultures are evident in the story lines and music of modern Aboriginal performances.

Artists of the First Sunrise is a multi-faceted project to highlight the rich legacy of indigenous peoples of Australia and their more than 40,000 year-old traditions of oneness with nature, celebrating their reverence for ceremony and sacred land. Despite human rights injustices, they hold strong to the Dreaming—the spirit which links the ancestral with the present.

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Documentary Film

The project’s cornerstone is Artists of the First Sunrise, a feature-length documentary film giving voice to indigenous Australians keeping Aboriginal traditions alive through creative expression despite perils and human rights infringements. The documentary will help preserve and promote these cultures’ beauty, as well as form an advocacy tool for the human rights of the 2.7% of Australia’s population currently estimated to be indigenous. The film will be distributed internationally, allowing for greater global awareness of the often hidden human rights issues faced everyday by indigenous Australians, as well as the power of their cultural identity in overcoming more than 225 years of marginalization.

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Cultural Preservation

Of the 250 Aboriginal languages and 600 dialects present before first contact with White settlement, fewer than 200 remain—with all but 20 endangered. Yet indigenous Australians are fighting desperately to preserve their language and cultures, especially through the Dreaming, an indigenous law of lore that uses storytelling to connect First Nation people across time, linking the living both to their ancestors and descendants.

Artists of the First Sunrise will contribute to ongoing cultural preservation efforts of indigenous Australians by helping preserve the intangible and material culture of several Aboriginal communities, both on the ground through our local partners as well as via an innovative online repository to be curated and managed directly by indigenous participants. Stories will be told by indigenous people themselves—those with blood connection to the traditions—in order to be culturally meaningful.

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Education & Advocacy

The Artists of the First Sunrise documentary will be used as a foundation for a global awareness campaign to enlighten viewers regarding human rights issues of indigenous peoples of Australia. Accompanied by a discussion guide and multimedia for groups, a full educational curriculum geared toward secondary students and teachers, implementation of a legal advocacy plan, and a coordinated promotional strategy, the campaign will seek to tangibly improve participants’ attitudes toward the treatment of Australia’s Aboriginal groups, as well as indigenous peoples globally.

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Community Building

The suffering of indigenous peoples is a global human rights issue, but Aboriginal Australians are of particular concern due to lack of treaty/legal status under Australian law, pervasive violation of indigenous lands and territory rights, as well as unequal access to health and human services compared with non-indigenous Australians. Despite over 200 years of civil rights violations, indigenous organizations are combating these acute challenges through artistic practice and locally-led community building initiatives such as cultural festivals, nonprofit organizations, and educational centers. Artists of the First Sunrise will support these efforts by returning proceeds from the project directly to our local partners’ ongoing community revitalization work.

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