This post is inspired by a workshop attended in January 2015 at Wenona School, conducted by Alex Shain General Manager of Narragunnawali, an initiative of Reconciliation Australia to assist schools to develop environments that foster a higher level of knowledge and pride in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures and contributions.
I would like to acknowledge that I live, work and play on Aboriginal land. I pay my respects to elders past, present and future, and I acknowledge with deep gratitude the many thousands of years of their continuing custodianship. I would like to acknowledge that this land was never ceded.
What does reconciliation actually mean?
This question is fundamental. It guides our actions and initiatives by getting to the heart of our intention. It is important to understand that reconciliation means different things to different people, and what one person or group of people might consider reconciliatory may seem unimportant or even offensive to others.
For that reason, Reconciliation Australia identifies three key aspects of reconciliation to better inform our understanding:
- Stronger Relationships. Reconciliation is not about 'helping Aboriginal people'. That kind of rhetoric serves only to separate, marginalise and disrespect. Its about strengthening two-way relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians. At the interpersonal, social and community level. Its about applying community values of communication, cooperation and inclusion.
- Reculturing. Reconciliation relies on the fundamental belief that our national identity is enriched by ensuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is part of our lives. It relies on the belief that comparison and competition is no match for learning and understanding. We must be open to redefining our own ideas about people and place, to reculturing our national identity.
- Recognition. Recognition is a matter of rights. We must acknowledge that not having a treaty is a stain on this moment in our history. That this stain represents fundamentally a refusal to acknowledge the history of our nation and an unwillingness to take measures to come to terms with that history.
What is holding us back?
For many people - myself included - reconciliation is a no brainer. We are often asking how to start bringing about change. What steps we can take to make reconciliation part of our teaching practice? Before we get to that, we must accept that their is something holding us back.
Reconciliation is unlike other educational endeavours - where a body of existing knowledge is administered to students framed by a set of curricular outcomes. Because reconciliation is not about knowledge, its about change. It requires change focused education, and that requires admitting that change is necessary. Admitting that something has gone wrong. That which is holding us back is a simple five letter word feared by scientific models of knowledge the world over. That word is TRUTH.
We cannot expect to see change if we continue to teach two different histories of our nation. We cannot expect to see change if we continue to water the racism in our roots. We cannot expect to see change without realising that the 'Australian way of life' to which we are so attached is really the cultural equivalent of adolescence.
So much of the way we educate ourselves is about understanding the world around us - the cultures and organisms, the nature and the art. But we do not examine our own culture to anything of the same degree. We do not turn a critical eye on our own history and so we remain blind.
Its time to grow up.
What can we do?
- Reconciliation Action Plan. A RAP is the first step. This is a formal plan that outlines measurable steps an organisation will take in the interests of reconciliation. Plans focus on three key areas: relationships, respect and opportunity. For schools, Reconciliation Australia is a fantastic FREE resource. They assist in developing RAPs and have a number of awesome online tools to help track progress and get people involved. Their newest initiative Narragunnawali will launch in March at http://www.reconciliation.org.au/schools/. Having seen a sneak peek of the platform I can honestly say its awesome.
- Relationships. Its impossible to understate how important relationships are to this process. Get in touch with elders in your community. Do it on their terms. With open ears. Ask questions and form relationships that are about inclusion. Open ended relationships that are not about the provision of token services.
- Start talking about Truth. We need to stop skirting this issue. If people are offended by their own reflection, so be it. The truth is a hard pill to swallow, but it is also a soothing balm on a deep and open wound.
- Take pride in the process. For all the darkness and denial, this is a truly beautiful moment in the history of our national identity. We stand on the edge of an opportunity like no other, to enrich our lives and lives of our children. To stand as a beacon of light for development. Not frivolous economic development, but personal, human development. There will be some letting go required. Many mistakes and awkward conversations. But ultimately we have to realise that it is all in the service of something essential to who we are.