Zoe Betar, from Reconciliation Australia, began her session at Associates’ Regional Intensive in WA with this thought-provoking question:
“How can we reconcile something that’s never been conciliated?”
As Aboriginal Australians, Zoe Betar, a Bundjalung woman and Esma Livermore from Bigumbul Country are well-placed to educate tomorrow’s teachers on appropriately acknowledging and incorporating Aboriginal culture into the classroom.
“We have a very horrible history, but we also have a lot of strength and resilience in that.”
Reconciliation Australia exists to promote and facilitate respect and positive relationships between the wider Australian community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This work is particularly important in a classroom setting, whether or not they have Indigenous students inside.
One piece of advice given to Associates was to consider how Indigenous culture could be integrated into the various subjects they teach. They pointed to the Narragunnawali platform, which is a useful resource that incorporates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures into the entire Australian curriculum. Subjects range from Dance and Design to Maths and Science.
Teachers can also create and advocate for their schools to create Reconciliation Action Plans, with many useful materials on the Reconciliation Australia website to guide them through the process. This includes guides to help prepare people to build relationships with the local Indigenous community, with tips on how to approach local Aboriginal people.
Associates were guided to create their own Acknowledgement of Country, researching and developing an understanding of native languages of the regions where they will be teaching.
There are more than 250 Indigenous languages across Australia, and many schools might include land where many different native tongues have been, or currently are spoken. The presenters urged teachers to do their research and make sure to get the names of the languages and people correct. “If on the cusp or on a border, recognise all of them. It’s important and they all had a role to play in that region’s history.”
There are many resources available to help, and one Associate recommended asking Indigenous students. “There are students at the school who are very knowledgeable about the topic and are happy to teach those who are interested.”
Zoe recommended including your own story in your acknowledgement to make it more personal. To make their Acknowledgement statement more relevant, another Associate suggested including something about learning, acknowledging what teachers can learn from their strength and resilience.
In closing, Esma urged the audience to always remember Indigenous history. “Wherever you go, have a think about who and what was there before colonisation.”