Thursday 06 July 2023, 14:00

Cultural Panel’s success highlighted amid NAIDOC Week and Matariki celebrations

  • First Sisters of Country – whānau by sea and sky, is a panel ensuring authentic cultural recognition and engagement during the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup

  • The panel is made up of six women: three First Nations Australians and three Māori from Aotearoa New Zealand

  • NAIDOC Week celebrations are being held on 2-9 July in Australia and Matariki is being celebrated on 14 July in Aotearoa New Zealand

For the first time at a FIFA Women’s World Cup™ a Cultural Panel has been established, and if the positive output of the panel is any indication, the initiative has proven a huge success. Guiding the tournament organisers on cultural matters is a panel known as the First Sisters of Country – whānau by sea and sky, made up of six women: three First Nations Australians and three Māori from Aotearoa New Zealand. The Sisters use their expertise and knowledge to provide advice and ensure that the tournament provides meaningful recognition and celebration of First Nations and Māori people and avoids cultural misappropriation. Aiming to celebrate the unique cultural diversities and identities of First Nations and Tangata Whenua and to raise the profile of their communities, the Sisters also ensure authentic recognition and incorporation of cultural protocols into the tournament. With Australia & Aotearoa New Zealand 2023 just around the corner, co-host Australia is celebrating NAIDOC Week. NAIDOC Week – an acronym for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee – is an important annual celebration in Australia with many people this year looking at the event through a sporting lens ahead of Australia & Aotearoa New Zealand 2023. Matariki is the Māori name for the cluster of stars (the Pleiades) that signals the Māori New Year. For Māori, the appearance of Matariki heralds a time of remembrance, joy and peace. From 2022, a public holiday marking Matariki was held for the first time with this year’s to be held on Friday 14 July – six days prior to the co-hosts kicking off the tournament in Auckland / Tāmaki Makaurau.

Pōwhiri Ceremony

With almost uncanny timing this week kicked-off with Australia’s national team announced including two First Nations’ players in the roster: Kyah Simon and Lydia Williams. Simon, notably, became the first indigenous Australian – man or woman – to score in a senior World Cup. Both players have long been vocal about the importance of their heritage in shaping them into who they are. Among the panel members is Dr Karen Menzies who was the first Indigenous woman to pull on the Matildas’ jersey in 1983. She was selected to be a member of Football Australia's inaugural National Indigenous Advisory Group in 2021.

Also highlighting NAIDOC Week celebrations has been the official unveiling of an 80m long mural inspired by Aboriginal culture and women in sport at Dorrien Gardens, a training venue for the tournament. The mural is another example of Indigenous-inspired artistry with First Nations and Māori culture heavily influencing the branding of the tournament and all events, celebrations and proceedings associated with it.

Supporters will be able to see prominent work of the panel through the use of traditional place names in tournament communications, Te reo Māori in signage and the binational acknowledgment. Some of the other clear visual elements the Sisters have implemented during the tournament will include First Nations and Māori flags at stadium, cultural elements in pre-match ceremonies and team welcomes, and a highly visible presence at the opening ceremony. The panel has also been able to guide other milestone achievements such as creating a bi-national tournament acknowledgement to both First Nations and Māori communities, joining as members to Indigenous-led business networks to encourage our tournament to invest in First Nations and Māori businesses, and so many other significant cultural actions.

Head of Sustainability, Dr Sheila Nguyen, said as a non-Indigenous business, it is important to engage authentically with First Nations and Māori people and to be guided by leaders from those communities. “In this tournament of firsts, it was important that we shared this stage with voices that matter,” she said. “First Nations and Māori communities have long been the custodians of these two nations and we are honoured we have been guided by the First Sisters of Country – whānau by sea and sky. “We have the privilege to greet fans from around the world side-by-side with the original guardians of these two countries, with pride and with open arms to all who love football as much as we do.”

 First Nations and Māori representation at the One Year to Go celebration for Australia & New Zealand 2023

Speaking as a collective group, the First Sisters of Country – whānau by sea and sky said they welcome everyone to celebrate the tournament respectfully in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand. “As strong proud women of country, we have a social, physical and spiritual obligation to sustain our culture, and protect, preserve and care for country,” said the panel. “Our culture is what defines us. It connects us to our families, community, customary practices, language and ancestral ties to our land, rivers and sea country. “We welcome FIFA and all participating nations, and we ask that our countries, land and sea and our first peoples as custodians of the land are respected. “Through respect for our countries the Liyan/Mauri or spirit - life force of our lands will guide and care for you during your stay as both are interconnected.”