Over the past few months, we've sought the perspectives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people concerning The Voice referendum, which is now scheduled for 14 October.
CELA's cultural consultant Lisa Walker posed four key questions to various First Nations early education sector professionals to help us gather diverse viewpoints. We believe it's important to share these views with fellow early educators as you form your stance on the referendum.
Below is a list of the job roles and Country on which the people who contributed to this article live and work:
- Centre Manager, Dharawal Country
- Principal Research Officer (early childhood outcomes), Bundjalung Country
- Cultural Facilitator - Children’s Services
- Innovation and Product Manager in the early education sector, Turrbal & Yuggera Country
- Senior Community Engagement Advisor, Wiradjuri Country
- Student Learning Support Officer, Bundjalung Country
- Cultural Consultant, Bundjalung Country
Here are their insights, including narrative written by Lisa Walker:
Our Old People have fought hard for a more equitable future for our future generations, and we are hoping The Voice will give us the opportunity to share our timeline of truth and hidden histories and give us a say in our future, we need to learn from history! The Voice will give us the recognition we deserve as Traditional Owners, along with cultural integrity and humility, and can be utilised as a stepping stone.
We need to yarn with each other, especially our Old People as they have the lived experience and knowledge of where we have come from and what this could mean for us. We want to use our voice to empower others and feel obliged to make the right decision for our future generations.
We don’t have all the information on how this will work and we believe the general population is not fully aware of the political processes. We also understand this won’t fix everything, but we need to educate ourselves on what The Voice is to make an ethical and informed decision and to get this right!
There are racists with bias who will try and cause division, but there are also people who want to change and have the desire to become one, so this can bring us closer. People should stand with us because they want to stand with us, not because they feel they have to.
We can’t forget who we are!
Question 1: What do you know about the Voice?
Answer 1: We are wondering if Australia does value us and if we will finally get the recognition we deserve as the First Peoples of this continent.
Answer 2: We have heard very little but are watching and listening carefully.
Answer 3: We understand there has to be a starting point or stepping stone that we can build on and move forward from but at the moment we are unclear on what The Voice will actually mean for our people. This needs to be done our way which means our people need to advise on this. We need our people speaking on behalf of our diverse Nations to help guide the government on strength-based approaches and solutions that will support our communities in a more equitable way.
Answer 4: We are yarning across our communities and definitely not relying on mainstream media, as they usually report on us in negative ways.
Answer 5: We are researching authentic online information from reliable sources such as SBS, NITV and the Yes23 campaign, to name a few. We are seeking relevant information to fully understand what this means for our people although sadly some of the info coming out can be confusing and there is a lot of mistrust with the government due to the way our people have been repeatedly treated since invasion. In 1998 Bob Hawke was the first Prime Minister to ever commit to a treaty and yet here we are 35 years later, yarning about the Voice.
Question 2: How do you think the Voice will make a difference for First Nations children, families, and communities?
Answer 1: Our people are undecided although we believe it should make a difference and it can, but this is not solely on us. It is up to the other 96.7% of the population to educate themselves and stand with us, to be accountable and acknowledge the power imbalance across the continent for our First Peoples.
Answer 2: We need to work together to change the education, housing, health, judicial and assimilation systems that still oppress us and collaborate on fairer and more inclusive systems that adequately support and create equity that will eventually enable us to catch up and be on a more level playing field with the rest of the population across the continent.
Answer 3: The Voice can also be looked at as a foundation for our future generations where they will be bigger and better and more empowered to continue our ongoing legacy of being respectful, humble and sharing, because this is who we are as a people and this is what needs to continue.
Question 3: Do you think The Voice will bring us closer and create understanding, acceptance, and equity for all?
Answer 1: We are unsure but hopeful. Will it get up or will it put us back, will it bring us together or will it divide us? These are questions going through our minds, but we do agree that our children deserve an authentic voice and a future free from patronising racist behaviours and oppressing systems that we are still navigating daily in our two worlds.
Answer 2: We continually share truth telling is important and there is a timeline since invasion of when our people have engaged with government about Country and our basic human rights. So let’s use this as yet another opportunity to create awareness and a greater collaboration and understanding of what has truly happened here and potentially come together once again.
Answer 3: Sadly, the ongoing debate is causing division, however we can’t let this divide us or we won’t move forward. We believe the Yes group is outweighing the other and there will need to be further changes in the constitution eventually but this is a start.
Question 4: What message does our sector need to know about The Voice, considering we guide our future generations' learning?
Answer 1: Refer back to your QIP, philosophy and EYLF on respectful engagement with our people. Don’t just go out and do, make the time to respectfully connect and consult with us first. Remember your role is to prepare our children for lifelong learning, leave the cultural learnings to us.
Answer 2: Be mindful that our people are experiencing a lot of racism at the moment due to The Voice referendum and our cultural load is heavier than usual. So we need you all to walk alongside us to help us make this change with us, for us, which can potentially lead to real long standing overdue effective change. If we’re going to do this we need to do it right and with good intent, not because we have to but because we want to. Our role as family members is to provide a legacy for our future generations which will shape their future.
Here are our tips on what you need to do as an educator who is on their cultural learning journey, and how you can model this for the children you support:
- Don’t wait for The Voice to be implemented, take action NOW!
- Self reflect, acknowledge your biases and unlearn and relearn what you thought you knew about us.
- Be open and approachable both professionally and personally.
- Remember we do have different ways of being and doing.
- Maintain a balance of love, give and take.
- Learn from Australia’s true history and understand what’s really happening.
- Do not stereotype us as this is highly offensive.
- Provide a culturally safe and welcoming space where we feel safe to engage.
- Yarn with us not at us and don’t yarn about us without us.
- Ask questions or you won’t know.
- Go into community and get to know us, don’t expect us to come to you.
- Empower yourself with authentic knowledge and resources.
- Before you ask our thoughts on the Voice, think about yours.
- Remind yourself that it is not First Nations people's job to prop you up or educate you on this, this is your job, you live here too!
Remember the question being asked “A Proposed Law: to alter the Constitution to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. Do you approve this proposed alteration?”
Step up, be a voice for generations and for change because we have to do this together, our future generations depend on it!
Further reading (shared by CELA):
Uluru Statement from the Heart (The Uluru Statement)
The Voice Referendum (Australian Government)
Voice Facts (The University of Melbourne)