National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children's Day (Children's Day) started in 1988 in the context of the many protests led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and supporters during the bicentennial year. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples felt a day was needed to celebrate our children, to give them confidence and make them feel special and included.
The date was chosen because 4 August was historically used as the day to celebrate the birthdays of the many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who were taken from their families at a young age and who grew up not knowing their actual birthday—the Stolen Generations.
Children's Day is an initiative of the Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC), the national peak body in Australian representing the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families.
SNAICC work to fulfil the rights of our children, in particular, to ensure their safety, development and well-being. While many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are growing up strong in their cultures, with support from their families and communities, a significant number of our children continue to face ongoing challenges stemming from colonisation and its intergenerational impacts. These include discrimination, poverty, systemic removal, intergenerational trauma, dislocation from land and culture, and community disempowerment.
"To achieve equality, we must approach these challenges through a holistic approach, considering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children's well-being, safety and development." (SNAICC)
What this year's Children's Day theme My Dreaming, My Future means
This year, Children’s Day is about asking Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children what Dreaming means to them, learning how they interpret this in their lives and identity, and hearing what their aspirations are for the future.
"Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are born into stories of their family, culture, and Country. They carry with them the songlines of their ancestors and culture, passed down by generations. Their Dreaming is part of our history, while their futures are their own to shape.
"This Children's Day, we are asking our children what Dreaming means to them, learning how they interpret this in their lives and identity and hearing what their aspirations are for the future." (SNAICC)
In this year's theme, we see an emphasis on the cultural connections to kinship, community and Country that First Nations children are born into, which includes connections dating back thousands and thousands of years, spanning across generations. We see that this connection, this Dreaming, not only underpins our past but also informs our futures and our children's futures.
As a Dunghutti mother of two, this year's theme speaks to the importance of sharing our culture with our children, embedding it into their every day, and helping build a foundation where our children know where they come from, feel strong in this connection, and grow up feeling proud of this identity.
What is the Dreaming, and how can we talk about it to children?
When we talk of the Dreaming, we are referring to a non-linear concept that describes First Nations' understanding of the world and its creation. It is shared verbally through stories, and passed down over generations. If you are interested in learning more about this, Common Ground provides some great information on this topic.
There are two trains of thought regarding sharing Dreaming stories in an educational setting. Some people feel they should not be shared with children, particularly if they are not stories local to your area, and others feel they form an important part of understanding Indigenous culture and so should be shared with children.
Tip: When considering whether to include Dreaming stories in your classroom setting, do your research, and reach out to your local Indigenous community to gauge their feelings on the subject.
How you can get involved
SNAICC encourages community organisations, early learning services and schools to get involved in Children's Day and to register their events on their website.
Many people host morning teas or events to celebrate this day, often including cultural dancing, arts and crafts, cultural knowledge exchanges, concerts and performances, storytelling, competitions, sports and other games and activities. There is a real focus on community and on people coming together to create a national atmosphere of celebration, respect and recognition. There are also a lot of activities on the Aboriginal Children's Day website, including downloadable activity sheets on culture and community.
You could also take this opportunity to ask your First Nations children what "My Dreaming, My Future" means to them and share these responses on social media with @SNAICC and #MyDreaming #MyFuture #NATSIChildrensDay. Posing such a question to our children can open up conversations around the importance of culture and exploring their aspirations for the future.
Children's Day is a wonderful opportunity to promote and celebrate the achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in your local community and the wider community. I love seeing how people use this day to highlight positive role models for our young ones and show their support for our children. We want all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children to grow up feeling proud in their culture, knowing they are deadly! So be sure to check out the Children's Day website, and see how you might be able to get involved and show your support for this important day.
Can we still celebrate the day if there are no Indigenous children enrolled at our service?
Absolutely. Here are three important reasons why all services should celebrate this day:
It’s important to remember that you may have children in your service who you are not fully aware of their heritage, particularly if their family chooses not to identify on enrolment. It should never be assumed that you don't have any Indigenous children in your room just because boxes haven't been ticked.
I feel strongly that there is no reason why non-Indigenous kids can't be a part of celebrating Indigenous children. Don't we want our children to grow up in an environment where diversity is celebrated? Our Indigenous culture is a central part of Australia's identity and any opportunity to celebrate this should be welcomed by all Australians.
This day provides two significant learning opportunities that should be offered to all children:
- The historical context of this date provides an important chance to reflect with children about the Stolen Generation, a sad part of Australia's history.
- Each year’s theme provides an opportunity to learn more about Indigenous Australia. Last year the theme was Proud in Culture, Strong in Spirit—a perfect opportunity to explore what culture and identity means to our communities. This year, the theme is My Dreaming, My Future, which provides a great chance to explore with all children what the Dreaming actually is, and why it is important in our culture.
How two CELA members will be celebrating Children's Day
Narooma Preschool Kindergarten
Narooma is a small beachside town in the Eurobodalla Shire in southern NSW.
When planning the day, Director Kathy Phipps engaged the opinions of the three young Aboriginal educators employed at the preschool.
“When I spoke with them, they thought that our focus should be on what the children wanted to be, to create a space that would allow them to dream, to be whoever they wanted to be in the future. In fact, Aaliyha, a young Yuin educator, said that role play as a young child helped her to push herself to reach her future goals.”
The educators at Narooma will set up stations that showcase a number of future occupation and interests areas for the children to explore including medical, veterinary, trades, teaching, culinary, architectural, musical, dance and other arts.
The day will begin with the children sitting around the service’s fire pit, which is their meeting place. They will sing the preschool’s song (created last year together with Grow the Music, a social enterprise working to support and promote musicians from First Nations communities and CALD backgrounds) before completing a Yarning Circle.
"We will share our dreams and ask the children to talk about what they would like to do and be when they grow up, and how they can dare to dream!" shares Kathy. "Aaliyha will invite the children to have their faces painted with ochre before they go off to play."
Another part of the morning session will be the making of a garden dream catcher, which will hang in the preschool garden as a reminder of the day, a place for children to go and remember to dream. Later in the day, children will be invited to take part in special table experiences indoors around pieces of literature including The Toast Tree by Corina Martin and Malu Kangaroo by Judith Morecroft and Bronwyn Bancroft.
Murray-Toola Damana Preschool
Murray-Toola Damana is an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander preschool located in the NSW suburb of Mt Druitt.
"Aboriginal children are born into their stories through their ancestors, mob and country," says co-founder Karen Isaacs, a Wailwan woman, teacher and cultural leader. "On Aboriginal Children’s Day in 2022 here at Murray-Toola Damana we believe each child’s story is a unique and special part of them that forms their own Dreaming. It allows them to become the person they were always meant to be."
Uncle Wes Marne, founding Elder of the preschool recently released his published stories “Through Old Eyes” in the form of poetry. For Children's Day, children and Aboriginal teachers at the preschool will follow in his one hundred year old footsteps by telling their story on record or with a member of the community.
"These recordings will be kept until they leave the preschool where they can look back on the formation of their story," says Karen. "By sharing their stories it is our hope that our children will be strong in fulfilling their Dreaming and keeping our cultural campfires alight."
Ways to extend on this day
First Nations Bedtime Stories Week will take place between 24-28 October 2022. This is an annual week of storytelling by Common Ground, which will take Dreaming stories from different First Nations communities into homes and classrooms all over Australia. When you sign up to be a part of this, you are sent the stories to your inbox to be watched that week, along with comprehensive educational resources that accompany the films.
Read one of the many other Amplify! articles written by Deborah Hoger:
How to conduct a bookshelf audit
Avoiding the trap of cultural tokenism
Demonstrating respect for Country
Read a review of some great books on the Reading Opens Doors blog, and restock your bookshelves
Tune in to Playschool's Yarning and Dreaming special this Thursday at 9am.
With special guest Christine Anu, this Play School special will encourage audiences to acknowledge Country and share their dreams for the future.