By CELA on 3 Aug, 2020

We are the Elders of Tomorrow: Hear our Voice

By Deborah Hoger

On 4 August 2020 each year, we celebrate National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day (Children’s Day). This is our national day dedicated to celebrating our children; who they are individually, but also who they represent as a collective, as the future generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Importantly, this day is a day for all Australians to learn more about the significant role that culture plays in the lives of raising strong and confident children.

The history of National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day

National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day is organised by SNAICC, the national non-government peak body representing the interests of Indigenous children. This special day first started back in 1988 in the context of the many protests led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their supporters during the bicentennial year. It was started as a day to celebrate our children, to help them feel valued and most importantly, included.

This particular date was also chosen because 4 August was historically used to communally celebrate the birthdays of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who were apart of the Stolen Generations; taken from their families at a young age under the various child removal policies of the time and placed into foster homes or institutions, these children were all given the same date for their birthday. It is a sad thing to contemplate, but a necessary truth for us to remember. It reminds us of the trauma attached with the forced removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from their families, communities and country, and of course, the intergenerational trauma which lingers and permeates through our communities.

Unpacking this year’s theme

The theme for this year’s Children’s Day is: We are the Elders of tomorrow, hear our voice.

This is such a poignant theme in light of the Black Lives Matter movement, and all that is happening in the world today. It acknowledges that our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children of today will grow up to be the Elders of tomorrow. Elders who will continue to pass on our cultural knowledge, stories and lore, Elders who will contribute towards creating a more equitable future for our communities, and Elders who will then hold the responsibilities of ensuring the next generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children grow up with a solid identity of who they are and what they stand for.

Image via SNAICC – National Voice for our Children

This year’s theme also highlights the importance of family, kinship and community in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies. Kinship is central to Indigenous society; it is a system of social organisation which position’s people’s relationships, responsibilities, roles and reciprocal obligations to one another. Kinship determines how people are related to each other, and how they can interact. The concept of kinship remains a very prominent feature of Aboriginal culture today, but of course, varies across the country, and can be quite distinctly different between urban and more remote areas. At the core remains, however, family, and its importance.

Aunty Fay Muir describes it simply but perfectly when she writes in her children’s book ‘Family’:

Family. Stories and songs. Showing how to care for mob and Country. Listening to Aunties, Uncles, Elders and Ancestors. Learning how to be – to each other, to Country.

The Aboriginal concept of family is often considered more broadly than within other cultures. The extended family involved in helping to raise a child, the aunties and uncles, grandparents, and other members of the community, play significant roles in a child’s life. Family and culture are the strong support systems that keep Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children strong in who they are and who they grow up to be.

An important role for early educators

For me, this year’s theme is also a reminder of the incredibly important role that early childhood educators play in guiding our children to become confident adults who can use their voices influentially and become leaders for a better future.

Evidence has shown that the early years are the most crucial in a child’s development, and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, in particular, it is crucial that they are supported to feel connected in their traditional and contemporary cultures, and for them to feel that their voices are valued within their educational setting. Educators have a responsibility to provide the space within their learning environment for this connection to flourish, and for children to feel this value and respect given to their culture. Participating in special days like Children’s Day is one way to do this.

Community organisations and schools can get involved in Children’s Day in a range of ways, including facilitating cultural dancing, arts and craft sessions, storytelling, competitions, sporting days, games and activities. All beautiful ways to participate in this special day; a day of celebrating our little ones, and a reminder to us all of the role they will have to play as they grow and take their place as adults in society.

Watch young Wurundjeri and Kalkadoon warrior Jedda with Wurundjeri Elder Aunty Di

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.

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Community Early Learning Australia is a not for profit organisation with a focus on amplifying the value of early learning for every child across Australia - representing our members and uniting our sector as a force for quality education and care.

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