Reconciliation Australia tells us that tackling the unfinished business of reconciliation is a challenge for all Australians. The National Reconciliation Week 2022 theme Be Brave. Make Change is simple and to the point. The theme asks us as individuals and as organisations to be bold and take brave actions in our daily lives to achieve reconciliation.
But what does this exactly mean for educators? How can we take these four simple words and apply them meaningfully to our practice and our educational settings?
Last year’s theme was More than a word. Reconciliation Takes Action. This year’s theme asks us to take one step further to build on our actions to really drive change. So, we take a few moments to break down this year’s theme into achievable goals and actions for educators in the early education space.
“The theme should remind all individuals, not just teachers, that doing something is always better than doing nothing regarding Aboriginal education,” says Josh Brown, Worimi, of Deadly Ed. “We need to stop this excuse of ‘I don’t do anything as I don’t want to offend’. Instead, back yourself to enable long-lasting change for our mobs.”
Reconciliation is everybody’s business and can be actioned by everybody every day
The 2022 National Reconciliation Week artwork by contemporary Torres Strait Islander illustrator Tori-Jay Mordey shows some of the different faces of Australians working for a just and equal society. It is a visual reminder that reconciliation is everybody’s business, and we all have a significant role to play. It is up to us to determine what exactly that role entails.
‘Be Brave. Make Change’ asks us to look to our everyday lives, to where we work, play and socialise, to further reconciliation.
Educators are uniquely positioned to foster in children a respect for diversity, empathy for others, and celebration of culture early on. This can set the foundation for a child’s lifelong journey and contribution to reconciliation. This year’s National Reconciliation Week theme reminds us that this unique position comes with great responsibility for educators to step up and out of their comfort zones and represent what reconciliation in action looks like to their children.
So how exactly can we step up?
1. Get more involved with your local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and become involved in local and national issues of importance
It is important to introduce young children to the ‘big’ issues, issues like environmental and cultural heritage protection, constitutional change, treaty, truth-telling and racism, guided by educators and presented in age-appropriate ways.
We often hear talk about how difficult it can be in certain communities to engage with the local First Nations community. If this is where you are, it’s important not to give up but to look for alternative ways to provide your children with opportunities to connect with and learn from Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people.
Elders groups are an ideal way to make this connection but are not always accessible, or in many cases, are in high demand and so cannot always accommodate requests to connect.
If this is the case, you can look for alternative groups of people to connect with on important issues, either online or in person. This might include local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander businesses or social enterprises (check out Supply Nation to find ones in your local area) and local and national First Nations or ally groups tackling important issues.
Some examples of such groups include:
Firesticks, an Indigenous-led network that aims to re-invigorate the use of cultural burning by facilitating cultural learning pathways to fire and land management
Our Islands, Our Home, a campaign led by Torres Strait Islanders to protect their island homes from rising sea levels
And of course, via Reconciliation Australia
Organisations and movements like these are wonderful educational platforms on which you can open conversations with children about First Nations' histories and cultures.
2. Make space in your sphere of influence to amplify First Nations voices
Think critically about where you might be able to make space for First Nations voices. Be aware that the educational content around Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities may often stem from a Western perspective, not an Indigenous one.
By increasing Indigenous representation and using diverse and culturally inclusive educational materials in your classroom, you are facilitating a much deeper learning experience around Indigenous perspectives, one which you simply cannot achieve by looking only through a Western lens. Pedagogically, this might mean reviewing your educational content through the Aboriginal 8-Ways Pedagogy, remembering that Aboriginal perspectives are found in Aboriginal content and Aboriginal processes.
3. Reinforce positive representations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia and support those around you to do the same
Negative stereotypes and media misrepresentations create a harmful picture of our First Nations cultures. We should celebrate First Nations achievements, strength, and resilience so that all Australian children, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, grow up respecting one another and our differences.
Prep teacher Kylie Dixon tells me that a focus for her with this year’s theme is supporting both children and educators to do just this.
“I’ll be supporting teachers to ensure that all children, including First Nations students, are brave enough to speak up about their culture and history. We’ll be ensuring that our voices are heard, and they’ll be learning that, as First Nations children, they should be proud of where they come from and that they are deadly.” Kylie Dixon, prep teacher and leader of curriculum and inclusion, Yuggera, Jagera and Ugarapul
Take action today and every day and take a stand in any way you can
‘Be Brave. Make Change’ ties very neatly with this year’s NAIDOC theme of “Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up!”. It is all about encouraging people to use their own lives to stand up and take action towards reconciliation and strengthening relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia, not just during National Reconciliation Week but every week of the year.
Further reading from the Amplify! archives
Championing reconciliation through art
Representation matters: here’s how you can conduct a bookshelf audit
What is cultural appropriation, and how do we avoid it?
Avoiding the trap of cultural tokenism
Demonstrating respect for country
Want to know more about Acknowledging And Celebrating First Nations of Australia?
Explore our 2-part professional development series, the next session starts on 30 May:
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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.