Reconciliation at your service: Practical steps for recognising and including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and peoples

This week is National Reconciliation Week (NRW) and the theme for 2019 is ‘Grounded in Truth – Walk Together with Courage’.

NRW 2019 acts as a reminder to all Australians that we should all strive towards reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians, and that it is the shared responsibility of all Australians. It also reminds us of the importance of acknowledging different cultural practices and worldviews.

ACECQA acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of all lands across Australia. We recognise and celebrate the contributions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians, including their role in the education and care of children.

In this blog, we focus on some practical ways for education and care services to promote knowledge and recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, cultures, history, and contemporary societies.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures are fundamental to the National Quality Framework (NQF)

A guiding principle of the NQF is that Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are valued, and educators take every opportunity to extend children’s understanding of their local context and the wider world.

The principles of the Approved Learning Frameworks’ underpin educator practice to focus on assisting all children in making progress across the learning outcomes.

  • The principle, ‘Respect for Diversity’, guides educators to recognise that diversity contributes to the richness of society and includes promoting ‘greater understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing and being’
  • Another principle, ‘Ongoing Learning and Reflective Practice’, references the importance of educators valuing the ‘continuity and richness of local knowledge shared by community members, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders’ (Early Years Learning Framework p.14, Framework for School Age Care p.12).

Services have an important role to play in progressing reconciliation

When services work towards recognising and including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures, they are contributing to reconciliation. To give context to the term, Reconciliation Australia uses five inter-related dimensions – race relations, equality and equity, institutional integrity, historical acceptance and unity. Services have an important role to play in achieving progress across these dimensions. After all, it is children who will shape the future and even small steps taken today to help children understand reconciliation can lead to positive outcomes in the years ahead.

Reconciliation should be part of a broader effort towards inclusion and cultural competence, and acknowledging the cultures of the children and their families who are represented at the service, as well as the cultures in the local community and from across the world. After all, no effort at reconciliation can truly be successful without first creating positive attitudes within each service towards acceptance of all cultures, promoting familiarity with different cultural practices and worldviews and developing skills for cultural competence.

Planning is a good way to begin the reconciliation process at your service

Working hand-in-hand could be your service’s Quality Improvement Plan and educator individual performance planning (QA 7.2.3), in addition to plans such as the Strategic Inclusion Plan and Reconciliation Action Plan.

Aside from improving practice, planning provides an opportunity for reflection, serves as a tool for team collaboration, offers evidence of progress, and helps to ensure consistency in quality outcomes.

These plans are living documents and it is worthwhile regularly updating and critically reviewing them throughout the year.

At the beginning of the planning process, it’s advisable to review and reflect on service practice and culture to determine how much your service is currently engaged with reconciliation.

In addition to reviewing current practices, planning documents and resources, you could hold discussions at team meetings or reflective sessions to discuss questions such as:

  • how knowledgeable are we about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, cultures and history?
  • how are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures valued at our service?
  • what else can we do to promote understanding and respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures at the service?

These meetings could also be an opportunity to involve, or consider how to involve, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives, as well as families, children and the community.

Developing a Reconciliation Action Plan demonstrates commitment

While a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) is not a requirement for services, it demonstrates your service’s commitment to reconciliation to your educators, children, families and communities.

A RAP can take many forms, but should be a practical plan of action built on relationships, respect and opportunities. Narragunnawali has information and resources you may find useful.

Practical steps to help you plan

Step 1: Set objectives

It’s important to set clear and practical reconciliation objectives for your service to work towards.

These could include:

  • increasing educator, child and family knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, history and contemporary society
  • developing respectful, authentic relationships with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities
  • growing the appeal of your service to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educators, children and their families, a place where they feel welcome and safe and their cultures and traditions respected.

Step 2: Develop educators’ cultural competence

All non-Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander educators will need to develop:

  • an understanding and awareness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, history and contemporary societies, and
  • appreciation for the importance of connectedness to land and spirituality that lies at the heart of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural identity.

Building this knowledge can be a focus for professional development and take many forms.

For example, educators could attend a professional course, development sessions, presentations with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives, independent or team study, and workshops.

Step 3: Build relationships

Connecting with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is key to developing a deeper understanding of their cultures, history and aspirations.

Ideally, the connection should not be short-term and transactional, but aimed at building a long-term authentic relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the service, educators, children and families.

There are various ways to link with and begin engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives. You can contact local land councils, community liaison officers, Elders Councils, legal services, health organisations, or reconciliation groups.

Step 4: Embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures into educational programming and everyday practices

Ways to do this include:

  • working with children and, if possible, with the local Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander community, to develop a daily Acknowledgement to Country for the service. This is an opportunity for children, educators and families to acknowledge and pay respect to the traditional owners and ongoing custodians of the land on which the service sits.
  • inviting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members to open major events at the service with a formal Welcome to Country. Whether spoken or performed, the Welcome acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land and welcomes the wider community to the land.
  • exploring literacy and storytelling, such as telling Dreaming (Aboriginal) or Tagai (Torres Strait).
  • exploring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander music and art. Where possible, invite Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander performers and artists to the service or visit them.
  • creating a calendar of events to acknowledge days of significance in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander calendar, such as NAIDOC Week (from the first Sunday in July), National Reconciliation Week (27 May to 3 June), National Aboriginal and Islander Children’s Day (4 August).
  • creating resources that demonstrate that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are valued and include messages of reconciliation and goodwill, such as maps, flags, music, puzzles, books, videos, posters, etc.
  • researching the local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language and use it in interactions with children and families. Consider naming a section or area in your service using the local
  • using goods and services from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses (see Supply Nation).
  • exploring setting up a connection with a ‘sister service’ with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, perhaps in a rural or remote area. Stay in contact online or by phone – have children exchange photos, drawings and stories of their day and home life.

Working towards reconciliation and building knowledge and recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures requires an ongoing, long-term commitment by services.

Your efforts will be worthwhile for the children, educators, families and community, as well as the future of our country’s relationship with its First Australians.

ACECQA’s 2019-2020 Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP)

At ACECQA, we are committed to reconciliation and to celebrate this commitment, we developed our Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), which was recently endorsed by Reconciliation Australia. This RAP acknowledges our responsibility and outlines our commitment to reconciliation by working towards an environment that recognises the unique place that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures hold in Australia.

Further reading and resources

ACECQA – Guide to the National Quality Framework

Narragunnawali – Professional learning and resources

Reconciliation Australia – Resources

SNAICC – National Voice for our Children – Resources

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