Lots of educators ask us how they can be an ally to First Nations peoples. Ally is an interesting concept. Generally speaking, it’s a term used by people who align with social and political matters that don’t directly affect them. So, when I hear educators asking how they can be an ally in the Aboriginal Education space, I tense up a bit. Why? Well, each state and territory education department have some sort of First Nations education policy, and essentially, as these documents have evolved, so too has the responsibility of educators to be ‘allies’ without actually using the word ‘ally’. All of these education policies draw on ways in which educators can better the learning experiences of First Nations students and they centre the importance of all learners to know about First Nations peoples – specifically their cultures, histories and languages – which is basically allyship in action. But this isn’t an article on how to be an ally. Instead, this is an article on simple yet effective ways you can advocate for Aboriginal Education within your learning community that will align with your department’s respective First Nations education policy.
Aboriginal Education isn’t something you should “just start”. Reflection has to be your first step. And we know, reflection can be big and scary. But reflection is where growth happens. As a starting point, note down what your learning community already does to facilitate Aboriginal Education and think about whether the families of your First Nations students and the local community support these things. If you don’t know how they feel, then here’s a great opportunity to ask!
We encourage you to begin a live scoping document that details how your school is working towards meaningful and consistent Aboriginal Education, identifying goals, areas of opportunity or initiatives that could be strengthened. Create some goals that address the needs of your First Nations students, as well as all students, teachers and non-teaching staff. Plan for the bigger picture and add the finer details along the way. We acknowledge that every school is at a different point in their Aboriginal Education journey. So, if you’re just starting, trying again or working towards new goals, don’t try to do too much at once. Do one or two things first and do them well. Once you’re confident that those things have been embedded effectively, move onto your next goal or initiative. Remember, your live scoping document is a work in progress – always.
Note: When you’re reflecting don’t get caught up on what every other school is doing. It’s important to remember that each community is different. Needs, support structures, geographic location and First Nations populations are all factors that can vary and impact on how you deliver Aboriginal Education. What works for the school across town might not work for you.
Seeing as Aboriginal Education is about First Nations people and their experiences, you will need to include First Nations students, their families, your local community and any support structures such as peak educational bodies in your reflective conversations and initiatives moving forward. Listen to the needs, ideas and concerns of First Nations stakeholders, and work together on pragmatic solutions that will work for your learning community. Ask, listen and respond appropriately. Don’t forget, it’s ok to seek help and guidance from your community along the way – conversations about Aboriginal Education should be continuous.
Be open to learning. Learning can be formal or informal and could look like cultural competency workshops delivered by your state education department or a First Nations business (like Deadly Ed), or it could be research, watching a doco, listening to a podcast or reading articles (like this one) in your own time. Suites of professional learning are always jam-packed, so it’s up to you to take some ownership and educate yourself. When you think about it, we’re always learning things that relate to the curriculum we teach in our classrooms. So, apply the same thinking to Aboriginal Education. Teachers are committed to lifelong learning, right? Learning about the histories and cultures of First Nations peoples is vital to your delivery of Aboriginal Education. Personally, I reckon one of the best ways to make an impact with Aboriginal Education is within a classroom with all students. There are so many opportunities for educators to embed Aboriginal perspectives into our nation’s curriculums. So, knowing about our histories and cultures, particularly on a local level, can add great significance to lessons. Just be sure to seek out advice and guidance from your community on how to appropriately facilitate local First Nations histories and cultures within your teaching and learning.
Centre First Nations voices
Be sure to use teaching materials that have been created or endorsed by First Nations peoples. Acknowledge resources made by First Nations people rather than replicating them with your own voice. You should always share, with consent and permission, messages, stories or experiences from First Nations peoples without alteration.
Consider First Nations peoples’ time & energy
Be aware of how often you lean on First Nations communities without compensating them for their time and energy. Many First Nations people have a lot of knowledge, wisdom and stories to share – there are so many people within communities ready to jump at the opportunity to share their culture. But be mindful of how often a First Nations person may be retraumatising themselves to give your students a learning experience, especially when talking about the dark parts of our nation’s history.
So, if you’re feeling encouraged to start afresh, make adjustments or plan new goals, consider how your initiatives will be inclusive of everyone within your learning community.