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Creating and sustaining Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partnerships in ECEC

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‘In this together’, the theme for National Reconciliation Week 2020 (27 May – 3 June), encourages all Australians to reflect on the part they play on our journey towards reconciliation.

Fostering an understanding and respect for Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander cultures can have a profound and positive effect on children’s future attitudes towards cultural diversity. Early educators provide a crucial pathway towards helping the vision of reconciliation to be fulfilled.

As we move towards this year’s reconciliation week, we asked Deborah Hoger, a Dunghutti woman and early years indigenous educational resources specialist, to share how early educators can create and sustain respectful Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partnerships in ECEC settings.

Written by Deborah Hoger


A responsibility to promote greater understanding

Australian early childhood educators have a responsibility to promote a greater understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing and being. Doing so has the potential to greatly enrich the educational foundation of our children but can only truly be achieved through direct and authentically engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

By making connections with your local Aboriginal Land Council or Elders Groups or engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses that offer cultural experiences, educators can create positive spaces for our children to learn about and connect with culture.

“When Early Childhood Services invite us in to engage with Educators they are offering their Educators another level of understanding and openness to create change within a closed system. A new way of listening, seeing and creating change for the future,” says Cecilia Wright, Torres Strait Islander woman, a multicultural trainer and champion for indigenous education and inclusion.

Bruce Morgan, Butchulla/Gubbi Gubbi man, horticulturist and bush tucker educator further elaborates:

“By incorporating cultural programs, you are generously gifting the children (in some cases) a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn about the deep respect we, as First Nations people, have for our Mother Earth.

Bush playgroup, Tyabb Village Children’s Centre from our article “A real-life RAPP journey with Tyabb Village

“For the children to begin to learn about how every living organism is connected and relies on one another for survival is crucial. For them to understand that we are all responsible and need to make good environmental choices for the health of this planet and ourselves is the most valuable teaching I can offer.”

Internal cultural competency can help to navigate the cultural divide

In order to firstly create, and then sustain, partnerships between early childhood environments and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups and businesses, centres need to feel confident in their own internal cultural competency (the attitudes, policies and behaviours which together enable our ability to work effectively in cross-cultural situations), as this can help them to navigate the cultural divide.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is centred on a deep sense of belonging and a spiritual connection to the land and waters and is often seen as a protective factor against the impacts of colonisation and the imposition of a dominant culture on all aspects of their lives. Culture not only encompasses the aspects easily visible to others, like food, music, language and art but also includes the more subtle ways in which culture impacts on how individuals see and engage with the world.

When an organisation takes steps to build their cultural competence, this demonstrates to First Nations people that you are giving them respect and honour in this, their land, and in the context of a history of racism and cultural abuse. It indicates that you are approaching engagement with them from a position of understanding, empathy, and with an attitude of inclusiveness.

Building cultural capability is an important skill, and one which can be developed through professional training, best facilitated by or in partnership with, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. There are many Indigenous businesses offering cultural capability training, and many of these can be found at Supply Nation (www.supplynation.org.au), Australia’s leading database of verified Indigenous businesses.

A shared understanding of goals can build trust

When engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations, it is important to develop a shared understanding of the goals you are seeking to achieve, and a commitment to working together; this will help ensure that equitable and positive outcomes are maximised for both parties. Given the long history of exploitation of Indigenous knowledge in this country, ensuring reciprocity in your engagement will help promote and build trust between people and foster opportunities for participation that is active and genuine.

As home to the oldest continuing culture on the planet, Australia has the unique opportunity to deepen our children’s learning with input from thousands of years of rich culture, innovation and ways of seeing the world. By bringing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures into our centres, we ensure we are maximising this opportunity to its fullest potential.

Author Bio: Deborah Hoger is a Dunghutti woman and owner and director of Riley Callie Resources, a business specialising in Indigenous educational resources. She is passionate about using early childhood as a platform to introduce children to the rich depth of knowledge and unique perspectives that Indigenous Australia has to offer.


Reconciliation Week activities

Your first stop for ECE-focused activities can be found at the National Reconciliation Week site under ‘Get involved’.

Suggestions include:

  • Conduct an acknowledgement of country
  • Have a yarn (or discussion) with colleagues about the importance of reconciliation in our nation’s story, in your early learning service, and in your own life
  • Visit sites of cultural significance
  • View Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art
  • Gather to share food using native ingredients (take inspiration from tantalising recipes by Aboriginal chefs like Mark Olive or Clayton Donovan, or add a pinch of a native herb to a tried and tested dish)
  • Get started on your Reconciliation Action Plan

Reconciliation Action Plan

Have you made a RAP yet? And if you have one, is it embedded in your practice?

Amplify has hosted several outstanding articles sharing real-life RAP experiences by educators around the country.  Here is a selection that will help bring the RAP process to life for you and your team.

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