As the Leadership Development Program’s 2021 Cohort prepare to enter schools and orient themselves toward our vision of an Australia where education gives every child, regardless of background, greater choice for their future, they also join Teach For Australia’s commitment to a path for reconciliation, as we try to ensure that every day we are encouraging our organisation and the communities we work with to take positive steps towards this vision.
In commencing this year’s National Initial Intensive, Jeanette McMahon, a proud Yorta Yorta woman living and working on Jaara Country and TFA Reconciliation Coordinator, and her sister Dr Mishel McMahon facilitated a space sharing knowledge of First Nations relational worldviews and principles of practice. The space comprised of two sessions—the first centred around Deep Listening and relational worldviews, and the second engaged with the importance of Welcome to Country and Acknowledgement of Country.
“This is a grounding space. This knowledge we are sharing is about connection, deep connection,” said Jeanette. Jeanette and Mishel encouraged participants to engage with different views of what reality means outside Western worldviews—and acknowledge that different groups of people hold their worldview and knowledge differently.
While Western knowledges are understood to be owned by certain people, First Nations knowledge maintains belonging with Country, along with the community and Ancestors it originates from.
“Our belief is we don’t own Country, we belong to Country, and all knowledge is held in Country. The information we are sharing today is from Country—Country as a source of deep knowledge,” said Jeanette.
For Indigenous knowledges, the notion of the self is cyclical, shared Michel, expressing that it exists “in relation to community, in relation to Country and relation to Ancestors. Self does not sit at the centre,” she posited. “Identity is collective and individual. Growth of self is through interdependence and interrelationships with all entities”.
After an engaging session exploring Deep Listening and Relational Worldviews, Incoming Associates were encouraged to reflect what an Acknowledgement of Country meant to them—and the ways of being, doing and knowing that inform an Acknowledgement of Country.
Read some of their insightful reflections:
“As an educator, Acknowledgement of Country brings me to the past, the present, and the future; it situates my activities in a web of interrelatedness and connectedness to Country and all the entities that are connected to Country; it reminds me of the knowledges that have existed for thousands of generations in the space, and on the land that I now exist on; it recognises the honour it is to share space with these knowledges; it evokes gratitude for the opportunity to share knowledge on Country, amongst the rivers, plants, and animals that have been cared for for thousands of generations.”
“As an educator, I will strive to educate myself not only on the traditional customs and cultures of the place I am moving to – the lands of the Wurundjeri people – but also on other cultures of the people in the community.”
“I will strive to ensure that all Acknowledgements of Country in my classrooms will focus on both paying respects and including all of our relationships to this ancient land, the varied ways we experience it and the continued journey of learning.”
“It is such a simple and important thing to do, to show respect and acknowledge the Country we are learning on and what we can learn from Country itself. I think it is important for First Nations students to see educators acknowledge Country and show an understanding and respect for their culture, and make the classroom a more inclusive space, seeing as we are literally standing on Country that has been cared for and looked after for longer than any of us have been alive, and will continue to be cared for long after we are gone.”
“I found it deeply moving to think of Country away from the eurocentric colonialist human-centered philosophy. I think that this concept meant more to me today than it would have done so even a week ago after leaving Melbourne for the first time in many months on Monday. We drove past the hedgerows of Kyneton and surrounds and watched the landscape become less tempered with European involvement. We sat in a creek and thought about what this place might mean to the custodians of it and how much had changed.”
“As an educator, an acknowledgement of Country means recogising different world views and ways of knowing. It also means recognising and celebrating Indigenous culture not only as the oldest continuous culture in the world but as something that is alive today, often being lived through the emerging custodians who may be in our classrooms and their communities. To me, it also means recognising that we are not experts in everything, that our Indigenous students and their communities have a lot to teach us about their culture, Country and how we can live and teach respectfully in these spaces. So acknowledging Country is recognising this need to listen and learn from these people and the Country they belong to.”
Our Reconciliation Action Plan records our commitments, and these include that we will cultivate and demonstrate deep respect and humility for the thousands of years of culture, knowledge, and ways of learning that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islands Australians steward.
All photos by Jeanette McMahon