12 Forming connections

Sarah Kallman

I really want exposure and access to Indigenous cultural resources. Where can I source local knowledge and stories that are actually meaningful and within a context that my local Indigenous children understand?

The practical guide to forming connections with the Aboriginal community (in Highfields).

Learn

  • Learn about the traditional owners of the land you live on. Toowoomba is located on the intersection of three separate groups: the Jagera, Giabal and Jarowair people. “The Jagara people were of the foothills and escarpment, Giabal were of the Toowoomba area and the Jarowair were of the northern areas towards and including the Bunya Mountains” (Toowoomba Regional Council, 2019). Highfields is located on Jarowair country, but we pay respect to all people groups within our area.
  • Find out what country/people group your children and families may have links to if they are living off country.
  • Before you venture out it’s a good idea to look at your own cultural identity and consider your own beliefs and values (Korff, 2019a).
  • Challenge your own cultural understandings, and understandings of Aboriginal culture. You may even need to challenge some of your own bias, preconceived notions and prejudices.
  • Provide cultural sensitivity training for your staff. Specific to Jarowair, Yagera and Giabal people. Cultural competence training in your workplace can improve the level of understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures. Building a stronger foundation to relationships (Hunt, 2013).
  • Be aware of cultural differences for example: protocols of eye contact and handshakes may differ across different groups (Reconciliation Australia, 2019b). To understand specific protocols for your country please seek local advice. If you would like a list of protocols that may be helpful, created with the Jarowair and Giabal people in mind the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) have a comprehensive list found here.

Commit to action

  • Make a commitment to take little steps often to promote reconciliation at your service.
    One way to map out how you can go about promoting reconciliation is to create a reconciliation action plan.
  • A reconciliation action plan can be used as a guide to help plan personal and collaborative goals (Reconciliation Australia, 2019b).
  • Narragunnawali is a free resource for education services where educators and leadership can make a formal commitment to reconciliation at their service. This is a helpful way to learn about actions that you can take to promote reconciliation and forge a brighter future. Please visit the website to learn more (Reconciliation Australia, 2019b).

Take action

Make your service a safe and friendly environment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and families. Things to help promote a safe environment may be:

  • Visibly displaying your respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture by flying flags, displaying ethically sourced local Aboriginal art, displaying language maps and promoting books by Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander authors (Reconciliation Australia, 2019b)
  • “Showing respect for the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Traditional Owners and Custodians of the land on which learning is taking place or a meeting or event is being held” by recognising their connection the land by Acknowledging the country you are on (Reconciliation Australia, 2019b).
  • Place a physical Acknowledgement of country in your classroom. This could be a sign, poster, painting, plaque or mural.
  • Teach about reconciliation to staff and students, all year round, not just on special days like national reconciliation week or NAIDOC week.
  • Counter racism
  • Early learning services can play a major role in influencing the development of children’s attitudes and opinions. Make a commitment to reconciliation by teaching about Aboriginal perspectives (Korff, 2019b).

Make your service more accessible – by taking steps to bring down barriers for inclusion.

  • Use locally sourced resources that are relatable. For example, our local Aboriginal health services Carbal, publish story books for children. These story books cover a range of topics encompassing child health and wellbeing. These books are available in paperback or online copies.
  • Use resources that reflect Aboriginality, rather than resources entirely based on white models. Allowing Aboriginal students to identify with these characters (Reconciliation Australia, 2019b).

Connect
Reach out to Aboriginal people in your community
Get to know the community

  • Join the yarnin mailing list to learn about health and wellbeing events in the community.
  • Volunteer your time to help the community at different places like bunji birris to gunadoo’s playgroup, Koala playgroup or at Kulila Indigenous Kindergarten.
  • Attend local events (like the bunya nut festival, or bunya dreaming)
  • Attend a dance by Mura Biri Gururu Aboriginal Dancers
  • While there ask questions, form relationships, get involved. When you find an opportunity to make connections follow the link to find some questions that you could ask an elder.
  • Visit Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander local sites with the children (such as Gumminguru or Amaroo in our country)
  • Be trustworthy and follow through with commitments that you make
  • Begin with a relationship of trust.
  • Understand that the shared history between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians has created a lot of mistrust many lives have suffered significantly due to policies and practices, repression and segregation (Hunt, 2013).

Collaborate

  • Invite Elders and Aboriginal families to attend meetings and sit on committees.
  • Ask advice and listen to knowledge.>
  • When positions become vacant at your service look to employ Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People. This will support children by having access to Aboriginal role models in the community.
  • Foster relationships over the long term with Elders and community members by welcoming them to your service and properly compensating them for their time and efforts.
  • Do not take advantage of their generosity.
  • Pay the Elders as you would any other incursion for their efforts, taking time to educate and create relationships with the children.
  • Consider creating your own Elders and valued persons advisory board like USQ.

Rationale

The reason why I created this practical guide for forming relationships with the Aboriginal community in my area is because there are many resources available to educators if you know where to look. There are many different sources linked throughout the resource to access information about the Jarowair, Yagera and Giabal people. However, without relationships and guidance form the Aboriginal community, these are just stories and activities, the depth of engagement is superficial. According to the iceberg concept of culture some aspects of Aboriginal culture will not be obvious to those outside their culture (Hall, 1976).

The best resource available to any educator is creating relationships with the knowledge holders, the elders and community members. The Aboriginal Elders and Traditional Owners are the ones who hold the knowledge and cultural authority about the country and land where your service is located. Having Elders in the classroom and to consult and learn from is vital to appropriately and respectfully represent local Aboriginal culture, and so valuable for the children (Reconciliation Australia, 2019b).
Educators often struggle with how to take the first steps to make connections and relationships. This is a practical guide to help map out where to start.

This approach is supported by the kindergarten curriculum and the National Quality Standard. The Queensland Kindergarten Learning Guideline [QKLG] (2018b), states that educators should be “making connections with Elders and community members for advice about culturally appropriate resources and how to respectfully include these in kindergarten learning” and that at the engaging phase of the curriculum that all kindergarten children should be listening to and viewing texts about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing and being (Queensland Curriculum and Reporting Authority, 2018b). The National Quality Standard expects every service to “builds relationships and engage with its community”. This includes the Aboriginal community.

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Gems and nuggets by Sarah Kallman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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