We asked regular CELA writer Deborah Hoger to share her thoughts on the theme and how early educators can engage children with the idea of healing country.
By Deborah Hoger
Each year, the national NAIDOC theme is announced and somehow, it just seems to fit perfectly with the current state of affairs within Australia.
2021 is no different, and we see this year’s theme, ‘Heal Country!’ bring with it a call to action for “all of us to continue to seek greater protections for our lands, our waters, our sacred sites and our cultural heritage from exploitation, desecration, and destruction.”
Such a poignant theme, one which highlights the connection and custodial rights and responsibilities of First Nations people to this place, but also one which challenges all Australians to reflect on where we stand as a nation on issues such as power and control over Indigenous lands, waters and sacred sites, and respecting and protecting Indigenous knowledge. When we look at this theme, we see that ‘to heal’ is its underlying foundation. ‘To heal’, of course, means to ‘make well again’ or, ‘to overcome an undesirable condition’.
The significance of connection to Country for Indigenous Australians
For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, our connection to Country is a central part of our collective cultural wellbeing, but also of our own individual health and wellbeing. You will often hear Country spoken about as if it is a living, breathing entity, and that is exactly what Country is. Country encompasses the cultural, social, physical and spiritual connection we have with the land and waters, and extends to all within it; the plants, animals, rocks, hills, special and sacred sites, waterways, air, earth and everything in between.
‘Caring’ for Country is a fundamental and inherent right and responsibility for Aboriginal people in meeting their traditional custodianship responsibilities, a foundation of our culture. When Country is sick, so are its people. Last year, when Rio Tinto knowingly destroyed a 46,000 year old sacred site in Western Australia, it seemed the whole nation actually turned and looked. Media attention was brought to the plight of the Traditional Owners, who, for the expansion of an iron ore mine, lost a sacred place that showed 46,000 years of continual occupation. It was a sad moment in Australia’s history, but certainly not a unique one. Environmental sustainability has functioned as a grounding principle of traditional Aboriginal ways of knowing, being and doing; it is a holistic way of life which connects people to their land and water in the deepest of ways.The country does not belong to the people, rather, the people belong to the country.
Embracing cultural knowledge and coming together to do better by our Country
This year’s NAIDOC theme ‘invites the nation to embrace First Nations’ cultural knowledge and understanding of Country as part of Australia’s national heritage and equally respect the culture and values of Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders as they do the cultures and values of all Australians. Put quite simply, a nation can’t show respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and values, if it allows actions which deliberately and blatantly disregard Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander wishes, voices and intentions. Last year’s devastating environmental and cultural destruction was but one moment in a long history of Elders and communities fighting for the protection of their cultural heritage.
This NAIDOC theme calls for these (and other) injustices to be resolved – for action to be taken which protects our rights to protect and maintain our cultural heritage. Importantly though, this year’s theme speaks not only to the environmental protection of Country, but also to a call for ‘substantive institutional, structural, and collaborative reform’. It talks of ‘hearing and actioning the aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples which are the culmination of generations of consultation and discussions among our nations on a range of issues and grievances’. These words remind us that Country is not just place; it is place, culture, history, heritage, and people, all intertwined in tangible and intangible ways.
‘Heal Country, heal our nation’.
These powerful words call all Australians to come together this year to not only celebrate our country, but to do better by Country; to protect and respect it, and to hear and listen to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices about how to do this.
How early educators can engage children with this year’s theme
There are many different ways Heal Country can be brought into your service. Here a four examples:
- Explore what Country means to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – How have our First Nations cared for their Country and how can we do our bit to look after the environment? This is a great platform for looking at recycling and water conservation.
- Discuss Aboriginal totems and how they impact upon species conservation – Connect with your local Aboriginal groups to find out what are the totems to your local area.
- Discuss what a sacred site is and why they are important – Explore with children things that are special to them. What makes something special?
- Learn about some traditional land and water management practices, particularly those which are local to your area – How do they differ from the way the environment is managed today?
NAIDOC this year presents educators with a beautiful opportunity to share and celebrate with their children the unique place and history of First Nations cultures with the land and waters we now call Australia; a place of respect, of custodial relationships and of special connections built from generations and generations of living in harmony with their Country.
MORE ABOUT NAIDOC
Author Bio: Deborah Hoger is a Dunghutti woman and owner and director of 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.
Acknowledging and Celebrating Aboriginal Australia – A starting point
This workshop is designed to provide educators with a clearer understanding of how to to acknowledge and celebrate Aboriginal Australia. We will explore how to deliver respectful experiences of Indigenous histories, cultures and languages, and who to engage with in order to embed authentic Aboriginal perspectives into your program.