Aboriginal Cultural Awareness – Understanding is the first step to cultural competence

Notes from my Building Aboriginal Cultural Awareness Training by the Koorie Heritage Trust – Facilitator: Tania Rossi, on 12 July 2022

Cultural Awareness is understanding is the first part of cultural competence
Cultural Competence is put into practice the building of trust and relationships which leads to cultural safety

Welcome & Acknowledgement to country is a part of indigenous culture.

Aboriginality and identity

  • not based on how people look but more about their cultural background
  • never ask ‘how much’ Aboriginal a person is
  • not all Aboriginal people know who their ‘mob’ is, so don’t ask them this question either

Dr J Huggins:

  • feeling of own spirituality, core basis of identity
  • cultural identity – expressed through art, language, humour, beliefs, family and community relationships

Lyn Thorpe, Yorta Yorta

  • not about skin colour, it’s about what is in an Aboriginal people’s heart and mind

Australia has two indigenous peoples, who are ethnically and culturally distinct people:

  • Aboriginal
  • Torres Strait Islander

Aboriginal people collective terms eg in Victoria – Koories or Kooris. In South Australian southern region, the term is ‘Nungas’

Good map of Aboriginal ‘lands’ within Australia

Wavy bark on a tree
Unsplashed licensed image by David Clode

Australian History: Through Aboriginal Eyes

  • Terra Nullis
  • Invasion
  • Disease – Small pox
  • Massacres – Massacre Map – University of Newcastle – https://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/article/2022/03/16/over-100-colonial-era-massacres-added-ongoing-project
  • Dispossession – removal of Aboriginal people from their lands
  • Cultural Clash
  • Reduction of cultural activities – Aboriginal people were moved into white Australian communities and they were not allowed to practice traditional activities eg basket weaving, dance, ceremonies
  • Loss of identity from Aboriginal culture – lots of Aboriginal people don’t know who their family are as they were taken away from their families and communities

Aboriginal genocide happened over many decades

  • Aboriginal missions and reserves – herded Aboriginal people in a region into a mission, after which they needed permission by the authorities to leave. Some Aboriginal people were moved from mission to mission which has added to their loss of identity

Bringing Them Home Report, Human Rights Commissionhttps://humanrights.gov.au/our-work/bringing-them-home-report-1997

Australian Assimilation Policy

  • deliberate ‘breeding’ out of the Aboriginal people/culture
  • once a child was born to a white father, they were considered to ‘belong to the State’, and taken away from their Aboriginal families
  • Many Aboriginal people are living with the tumour of genocide and assimilation today, which is impacting their quality of life.

Acknowledging the past tragedies of Aboriginal people:

  • understanding the past allows us to live in the present to make a better future
  • the first step in healing trauma is by acknowledging that trauma exists
  • it is not about blame or guilt, it is about knowing (understanding and acknowledging)
  • Australian history is shared, including what has happened to Aboriginal people
  • Affirmation of Aboriginal people’s lives is very important

An indigenous person’s lost identity is hard to piece back together, and with these missing pieces is a lot of tumour.

An Aboriginal person’s culture is important, as people need a sense of belonging. For indigenous people, culture:

  • is critical for emotional, physical and spiritual well being
  • pervades indigenous people’s lives, and is key to healthy well being, and so this must be recognised in the actions intended to overcome indigenous disadvantage
  • is continuous, maintained and practiced today
  • creates strong families and communities
  • supports overcoming the trauma of the past to ensure the survival of Aboriginal people into the future

Local Government Councils should be able to put you in contact with local Aboriginal ‘hubs’.

Role of Elders:

  • an elder is someone an indigenous person looks to for leadership or who they look up to; they have a responsibility to their community to be a positive role model and look after their people
  • families and community are guided by elders
  • give inspiration and advice
  • are a source of practical and spiritual wisdom
  • may be required to arbitrate and settle disputes
  • they teach lore/law and culture
    • Lore – the stories and traditions within Aboriginal communities, eg women’s and men’s business
    • Law – is enforced ways
  • ask if you want to know who is an elder or listen to how they are addressed by their community
  • Aunty / Uncle is when an indigenous person trusts and respects an older indigenous person

Australia Day – Importance of changing the date

  • Changing the date of Australia Day is not about not celebrating Australia as a nation, but it about not celebrating the end of one culturally nation to create another (26 January is recognised by Aboriginal people to be Invasion Day or Survival Day). A new date for Australia Day is needed

Sunrise Stolen Generations, 2018 – Media Watch – Social Commentary
An example of how prejudices can be perpetuated

What to call Aboriginal people:

  • Ask an Aboriginal people what they would like to be called – Never assume
  • Some terms include: Indigenous, Aboriginal, First nations, First peoples, Koorie, Torres Strait Islander

Engaging with Aboriginal people:

  • understand more about Aboriginal history, culture, values, traditions, customs and cultural practices
  • build relationships with Aboriginal people, communities, and workers within Aboriginal and mainstream organisations
  • put formal protocols and agreements in place about working with Aboriginal communities, organisations and families regarding the development of culturally appropriate policy, programs and service delivery
  • be active in Aboriginal community events, activities and volunteering

Working effectively with Aboriginal people:

  • build trusting relationships through consultation, empowerment, and working at pace which meets their needs, and be prepared for unexpected changes
  • use culturally appropriate services
  • be open and transparent about your intentions
  • accept and acknowledge others’ inputs
  • consider all cultural and social factors

Breast Cancer Network Australia is a good example of this, as they took time to build the relationships with Aboriginal women to increase the awareness of the need to address breast cancer in Aboriginal women.

What can you do?

  • recognise Aboriginal people have a holistic approach to life, but Aboriginal people are not a homogenous group – they are made up of over 300 nations
  • respect, not patronise Aboriginal people
  • seek Aboriginal input and involvement into your programs and services
  • advise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people if you are showing/using any videos / images of Aboriginal people who have passed away

Notes by Allison Miller