Mark Kabay-Saleh: 'I have a dream — to save my islands'

May 25, 2021
Mark Kabay-Saleh speaks at the Brisbane student strike for climate. Photo: Supplied

Mark Kabay-Saleh, is a proud man from the islands of Masig and Poruma in the centre of the Torres Strait. Currently a year 12 student, he gave this speech at the Brisbane school strike 4 climate on May 21.

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I have a dream that one day my old people can rest in peace on their island home without fear of being swallowed by the ocean.

I have a dream that one day my brother’s children and my sister’s children can go home to understand who they are and where they are from.

I have dream that those who are disconnected from their cultural heritage can return and make that reconnection on their ancestral lands.

I have a dream that in another 10,000 years, we can still practice our cultural dance, tradition and language with ease, on the shores of our islands where they were originally established.

I have a dream that in the future, the red black and yellow flag along with the green blue black and white flag can sway in innocence and that both nations can foresee tranquillity and justice.

I have a dream that people can understand who we are as proud Torres Strait Islander people and the pain we endure, and to speak his name — Eddie Mabo — without questioning the type of man he was.

I have a dream that my islands can be saved.

I miss home. When the voices of my elders sing I shed tears. The tune of their voices brings my heart and soul back to the shores of my homeland.

If nothing is to be done, the tune of their voices will fade and the sound of their wailing will remain.

Once our land is gone, there is no way to revive it: all that will be left is an empty heart with our head in our hands.

For generations, our ancestors have maintained and preserved that tradition, lore, culture and Ailan Kastom (island custom).

If the land becomes lost, so do we.

Our hearts are our compass. Our islands hold our heart. If they sink, our heart goes with them and we risk losing our direction in life.

There is a difference between walking upon another’s land and your own. To stand on the land that your ancestors once walked gives you feelings of peace, serenity and connection.

If that land is lost, the past becomes forgotten history, and people now suffer from the loss of ancient connection and the emerging struggle to discover their identity in the world.

Where there is pain, there is suffering and where there is suffering, there is trauma.

My tongue use to taste the saltiness of the surrounding waters of my island home. Now, my tongue tastes the saltiness of my tears, for now my island home is beginning to make its way down amongst the reef.

It is never too late to make that change.

Torres Strait Islanders are warriors and strong spirited individuals. We are fighters; for many years we have been fighting for understanding and recognition. Right now, we are fighting more than ever. Please hear us, acknowledge and understand us as we need that help.

This is my tribute to my late grandfather Phillemon Mosby Senior who said: “We never give up, we retaliate.”

It took one Torres Strait Islander man, Eddie Mabo, who on June 3, 1992, led the change for this country by overturning terra nullius.

It is imperative we acknowledge and understand that our nation is going under. So let’s prevent that before we witness the end of it. This country is sacred, although at times I feel we tend to forget its success.

I feel like a minority within a minority.

I am Mark Kabay-Saleh, a proud man from the islands of Masig and Poruma in the centre of the Torres Strait.

I have a voice and a voice I shall use.

I stand with pride dignity and hope that my islands are to be saved. May our forefathers guide us through this battle of preventing extinction and allow them to open their eyes, ears and heart and respect the ancient whispers, the cry for help and understand the pain that we endure as Zenadh Kes, or Torres Strait Islander people.

We’re in this together; together we can make that change.

The elders on Poruma Island in Kulkalgau Ya would say: Ina malu a lag nithamun yadaynga mamuy yawaykre. (The land and sea is yours, it is now your turn to look after it.)

Together, we can heal the nation. Let’s allow the power of that sacred saying to hold its meaning for generations to come.

One of the grandfathers had told me the story of the eagle. “No matter how far you travel across this globe, your nest will always be there for you to return too. Home will always be there.”

But now I fear that that might not always be the case.

But my elders had a dream that the eagle would be able to fly back to its nest. That their descendants would experience the same holiness, love and compassion from their island home as they did that maternal presence.

That a young leader would become that voice not only for them but for the old people before their time.

Urr kadakaway urr mulka wadpathan. (The water comes up, makes its mark and goes back out again.) These words are from an elder from Masig Island. As my grandmother would say: “Time and tide waits for no one”.

My dream is for my words to rock, stamp and shout with truth, clarity and certainty to the doubts and fibs that are spoken by closed-minded cold hearted and ignorant people.

This world requires more love, forgiveness, kindness, honesty, compassion and understanding.

May they lead from their heart that my island home is to be saved. For my people to lift the distress and fear of evacuation from their motherland, that those who stand behind me can have a future to look forward to.

Aho, Me’ta Qeer San. I agree, and that we are all related regardless of sex, race religion or culture. As my father Kunge said, “That is the wisdom of the Lakota people in the United States”.

In other words, we’re one family.

My people are suffering from the effects of the rising of sea levels, and so the question remains: will you lead with your heart and help us up too?

[Mark Kabay-Saleh is a proud man from the islands of Masig and Poruma in the centre of the Torres Strait. This is an abridged version of his speech to the climate strike in Brisbane's King George Square.]

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