Take action through education

Reconciliation Week runs from 27 May to 3 June and this year’s theme, ‘More than a word. Reconciliation takes action’, calls for everyone to take more impactful steps towards achieving reconciliation.

“Words don’t mean much unless they are followed up by serious commitment and actions by government and non-government sectors to address reconciliation,” says Associate Professor Clive Walley (pictured), National Director of Indigenous Education at the University of Notre Dame Australia.

“There needs to be a concerted effort by everyone across the country to really value, recognise and respect that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have contributed significantly to this great country of ours and it is up to all Australians to be a voice for them. The time for action is certainly well overdue, but I also know that many colleagues and friends are doing their bit to change this,” he says.

Reconciliation Australia describes reconciliation as “a journey for all Australians”, and strengthening the relationships and understanding between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples is at the heart of that journey. One place to start is through education.

“Cultural awareness workshops and courses like our Graduate Certificate in Aboriginal Studies can play a part, but they are just beginning points for many wanting to understand our cultural ways and perhaps one day work within our community to make a difference and create real positive change,” says Associate Professor Walley. “People learning about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural ways must also understand that our diversity shapes us into who we are.”

Notre Dame offers undergraduate and postgraduate level courses in Aboriginal Studies including a Graduate Certificate in Aboriginal Studies, which explores Aboriginal history, spirituality, culture, politics, and issues surrounding the principles and practices of reconciliation.

Program Coordinator Gillian Kennedy says she thinks it’s a program that every Australian should do. “I think every single Australian would find value in this program and should have this in-depth knowledge. There’s a huge variety of people who have done it, including police officers, teachers, health professionals and community workers, but I would love more politicians and policymakers to do it,” she says.

“We talk a lot about the historical context in a course called The Silent History, where we take a thorough look at Aboriginal history in Australia – an often unacknowledged history – and it really speaks to what we’re talking about in the national conversation at the moment around truth telling. That’s not only about Aboriginal people telling their stories of what’s happened, but it’s also about non-Indigenous people listening to those stories and also acknowledging our own position in that story.”

The program also looks at contemporary issues impacting Aboriginal people such as identity, Native Title and self-determination, as well as specialised areas such as how Aboriginal people are represented in the media and how they have been impacted by the legal system.

The other component of the program, which Gillian says is integral, is the 8-day intensive that takes place on country with Karajarri people, who are the traditional owners of the country just south of Broome in Western Australia. “While the rest of the program is online, we strongly believe there needs to be an opportunity for people to actually meet in person and be on country in Broome, which is a lovely experience – and often one of the main reasons people choose this course,” says Gillian.

Following the program, Gillian hopes students are more self-reflective, taking away a greater understanding and ability to use their democratic power to encourage politicians to make better choices when it comes to things like the Aboriginal voice, truth telling and treaty making.

“If we have a more educated population, then we will vote with our feet and make sure that we put people in power who can make these really important decisions and support Aboriginal people in what they want to do at the national level,” she says.

Patricia Wall, or Aunty Trish as she is known to her students at Notre Dame, teaches Aboriginal Studies at an undergraduate level and says education provides people with the tools to understand a different perspective. “Coming in, students may have a bias or stereotypical view about Aboriginal people but that changes immensely over the course and those students are now championing Aboriginal people,” she says.

“I think for majority of Aboriginal people reconciliation is about having self-determination, but it’s also about others walking with you, understanding where you’re at and the journey you’ve been through. That is the big deal,” says Patricia. “It’s not all about policies and plans. It’s about cultural context and conciliation, as well as the practical and symbolic elements of reconciliation, so that Australia can one day see us being in the Constitution. The biggest step of all is achieving mutual respect. When Aboriginal people work with non-Aboriginal people in a really amazing way, it’s because there’s acknowledgement of traditional First Nation people. Personally, that gives me hope. And that hope comes from education, nurturing relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people and being on the same page. We know there will be roadblocks but we are hoping people come to the party and say, ‘I want to be part of your world. How do I do that?’ That’s the most important thing.”

On the subject of education, Associate Professor Walley agrees. “You don’t know what you don’t know. So find out about why reconciliation is important for you as an individual, and why the land, rivers and waterways, our language, our culture and our identity are so important to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” he says. “Even if you just learn a small part of our culture, then that allows you to slowly engage and embrace how our culture has survived for thousands of years.”

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