By CELA on 29 Jun, 2018

Sorry Day, Reconciliation Week, NAIDOC Week: many services duly enter them in their cultural celebration calendars and engage as best they can with the topics and their communities.

Many services also genuinely endeavour to embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives in their programs in a more systemic way. They seek out connections with local indigenous communities and support resources like books, games, and incursions from Elders and performance groups.

But gather any group of non-indigenous educators together and ask how well they think they are representing the first people of Australia in the lives of children in their care, and the response is often a feeling of helplessness and inadequacy.

The good intentions among non-indigenous educators are often blocked by fear of offending Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with ‘stupid’ questions, or by not knowing where to turn for appropriate, up to date advice.

Overcoming our own personal barriers to understanding is an essential step towards connecting children to the country in which they live.  In Amplify this week, Canberra educator and director Susan Foy, of YMCA Belconnen Early Learning Centre, reflects on this year’s Reconciliation Week.

If you, too, have considered how your personal understanding supports your professional programming, this article will resonate with you and is worth sharing with your colleagues and friends (look for the PDF or Print button at each end of the article, or use the social buttons to share it immediately).

The path to reconciliation starts at our feet

I am a non-Indigenous Australian. I had the privilege of growing up on the south coast of NSW in part of the Yuin nation and now live and work on Ngunnawal land.

My work is with children, families and educators as the director of YMCA Belconnen Early learning centre. I feel honoured that I get to be involved in the formative years of children’s experiences with education and I get to know so many families and people from all walks of life and different culture backgrounds.

It starts with me

I can only speak of my experiences of reconciliation and trying to embed culture in our service as a non-Indigenous Australian, and so my lens has a smaller focus than the bigger picture and I acknowledge my limited view but I hope my experiences encourage others to start their journey.

For our centre and our educators, the first step was deciphering what we knew and what we didn’t know.

In the EYLF it states as educators we should be promoting a “greater understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing and being.”  (Pg, 13, DWEER, 2009.) If we are to do this for children in our care we need to have a base level of knowledge about the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture ourselves and the history of Australia.

Getting good advice

We tapped in to the schools section of Reconciliation Australia’s Website, Narragunawali. [add link] The website gave us a launching pad for exploring the history of Indigenous Australia and expanding our knowledge.

We had had a staff meeting in which we were really honest with each other and through this we found out what our own questions, biases and ideas were and what knowledge and understanding we were lacking.

Our reconciliation action plan research project was born. This is something we will continue to work on and include in our regular staff meeting discussions as we unpack the truth of the past to arm us with knowledge for our children going forward.

Honesty drove us forward

To me that is our path to reconciliation. The path of knowledge which starts with listening, showing respect, empathy and understanding. These are all things we ask the children in our care to do each day and yet as adults we sometimes find really hard.

We don’t have all the answers as educators but knowing we need to learn, being willing to listen to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples lived experiences and asking for help is a good place to start.

Practical changes to practice

In practical terms of how we try to embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture in our curriculum, we have started in small ways.

The children in the preschool rooms do an acknowledgement of country each morning at their morning meeting. This helps them to remember we are playing and working on Ngunnawal land and we tie in concepts of looking after the land with this.

Our room environments make use of Aboriginal designs and art work. We teach children about symbolism in Aboriginal art work and encourage them to think about the stories behind the pictures.

We share dream stories with the children that tell them about the culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and we share stories that tell them about the history of Australia and the awful things that have happened too.   The children have a strong sense of justice and it is clear to them that there have been many wrongs in the past. As adults we know there are many wrongs in the present too.

Beginning the journey

We are at the very beginning of a long journey in which we aim to understand and embed cultural perspectives in our centre and organisation.

For now in our centre we are thinking about the big concepts brought up by learning about the past and doing small things to share the rich culture of Indigenous Australians and to make that culture a reality in the lives of the children and families we come in to contact with every day.

As early childhood professionals developing our own understanding to share and embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives in our services is a great start.

From awareness to advocacy

We then must work towards being advocates for Closing the Gap and supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in achieving the best outcomes for their communities and their children.

We need to use the platforms we have to become allies, and listen and learn from those with more knowledge and experiences.

The recent events of Reconciliation Week prompt us all to reflect on the past and then think about where we are headed in the future.

Don’t keep history a mystery

The theme of Reconciliation Week this year was, “Don’t keep history a mystery. Learn, Share, Grow.”

At our centre we will use it as an opportunity to keep digging deeper into our research project, having meaningful discussions with each other, children and families, and to be thinking of the how we can deepen partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to grow and move further along the road of reconciliation.

Susan Foy



CELA offers a training session – Acknowledging and Celebrating Aboriginal Australia – A starting point

The next 2018 dates for this session are:

  • 27 June
  • 29 August
  • 7 November

These sessions are held at Marrickville, however customised sessions are available anywhere, anytime.

Session Description

As mainstream services, we often feel that we should be acknowledging and celebrating Aboriginal Australia in our service program. But where do we begin? And how do we enable others to understand the importance of this rich and diverse culture?

This workshop is designed to provide educators with a clearer understanding of why they are wanting to introduce Aboriginal Australia into their services. We will also explore ideas about how and who to engage with when ready to embed Aboriginal perspectives into their service program.

What will you learn?

This is a great workshop for those wanting to create an understanding of the following:

Why is it important to celebrate and acknowledge Aboriginal Australia within mainstream services?

Where and how do I begin?

How do I know if I’m being culturally competent?

Find out more by calling 1800 157 818

or email the team here

About CELA

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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