Reconciliation Week: Change Starts with You

Reconciliation Week: Change Starts with You

Reconciliation Australia says that “National Reconciliation Week is a time for all Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures, and achievements, and to explore how each of us can contribute to achieving reconciliation in Australia.”

I have mixed feelings about Reconciliation Week. This isn’t to say that it is something I don’t support. But have you ever stopped to look at who is facilitating the conversations around reconciliation and doing the heavy lifting? Beyond this week, how often are you really using the word reconciliation throughout the other 51 weeks or 358 days of the year? The conversations around Reconciliation Week are almost always driven by First Nations peoples – you just need to peruse social media and see whose words are being reshared between 27 May and 3 June.

It’s clear that Reconciliation Week is starting to gain a lot more traction within learning communities with it now being just as important as NAIDOC Week. Classrooms around the country are humming as students engage with Aboriginal perspectives, assemblies are being held to honour the year’s theme, and morning teas for community are organised.

So, why is this happening? Did you know the dates for the week have been chosen on purpose? Reconciliation Week coincides with two significant events for First Nations peoples (and really for all of Australia). The week begins on 27 May, to commemorate the historic 1967 Referendum where Australian voters chose ‘Yes’ to count First Nations peoples in the census and give the government powers to make laws for them. And the week wraps up on 3 June, the date that the Mabo decision was handed down by the High Court ruling that this land was not in fact terra nullius, it did belong to First Nations peoples. These are two dates that should be as synonymous as Federation on 1 January 1901, when we ask what has been significant to the formation of modern Australia. This is our shared history.

This year we are being called to action – to be brave, to make a change. Google says that to be brave means “show courage”, and it also says that change is to “make (someone or something) different”.

But is it brave to recognise and know about the status quo when it comes to First Nations peoples – particularly the issues, challenges and barriers First Nations peoples face daily – or is the bar that low? Do we really need to be giving non-Indigenous people a pat on the back when they acknowledge they’re on First Nations land or because they used an Aboriginal text in their teaching and learning? What is brave is standing up to and challenging racism when you see it. Understand your own unconscious biases and attitudes and be ready to call out racism with colleagues and students. Support self-determination by ensuring that your local First Nations community has continued input into the learning of First Nations students. Create culturally safe spaces and ensure that First Nations students and educators aren’t stereotyped and placed into boxes that don’t apply to them. (I’m looking at those people in positions of power that hand every single First Nations issue and initiative just to First Nations educators…)

Knowing our shared history is an important step in the process of reconciliation, particularly for educators. But it’s more than just about shedding light on the history of our nation, something that we like to call the other side of the Australian story. Instead, we need to be able to view this shared history through a First Nations lens not a white one. Our shared history is riddled with known and untold truths around what has happened to First Nations peoples and what Australia has been done to First Nations peoples. This is evident through the ongoing protests we see around our demand for our birth right to Country, our responsibilities to Country, and our mere rights and freedoms as the First people of Australia. Our shared past means that our current reality and future together has been formed on an uneven playing field. It will continue to be this way until Australians are ready to face up to bias and unlearn a romanticised version of our past before any meaningful learning or reconciling can occur. We can’t move forward together when realistically (and statistically) the gap between First Nations peoples and the rest of Australia is so wide.

So, how do we turn the noun reconciliation into a verb? Firstly, learning communities need to stop doing things to First Nations peoples and start doing things with First Nations peoples. It's important to listen to what First Nations peoples are asking for, what they want and what they need.

Our tips:

Don’t: Engage in one-off cultural awareness training in the school year.

Do: Map out an effective ongoing learning journey so that Aboriginal education can become part of everyday core business. Ensure that First Nations people, particularly from your local community, are part of the decision making and facilitate this learning.


Don’t: Just write a class Acknowledgement of Country.

Do: Engage with your local community about what Country means, what is significant to your area and why knowing about the culture of your area is important to everyone. With this knowledge, have students write their own personal Acknowledgement of Country guided by your local community. Be sure to compensate people for their time.


Don’t: Just hold an assembly or ceremony to recognise Reconciliation Week.

Do: Ensure conversations are continued in classrooms. Be honest and truthful about our past. Our past isn’t nice, but we need to talk about. Be respectful and use First Nations voices when talking about First Nations histories.


Don’t: Just hold a morning tea with your local community.

Do: Hold a morning tea with a focus to support First Nations organisations. Get to know how your learning community could support an organisation in your local area with time or money. Or throw some support to organisations like the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.


Don’t: Create spaces in your classroom or learning centre just based off ideas you’ve read in a text. For example, using First Nations toys, props, artefacts etc. in play-based areas.

Do: Engage with your local community to learn about the culture of your area and where appropriate, incorporate that knowledge into your play-based areas so that your learners can engage with First Nations toys and artefacts with meaning.


Don’t: Expect First Nations educators or those in non-teaching positions to organise Reconciliation Week activities or events.

Do: Include First Nations peoples in the process of organising and facilitating Reconciliation Week activities or events. Compensate First Nations people for their time.


Don’t: Make decisions about the education of First Nations learners.

Do: Work with your local community and the key stakeholders of your learning community to discuss and come up with ways to support First Nations learners in a way that is appropriate to your school or learning centre. Ensure there is opportunity for First Nations people to have continued input in the learning of First Nations learners.

Reconciliation is not a one-sided process. If you’re not sure how to respond, listen. If you’re not sure what to read or watch, research. If you’re not sure what to say, ask. Reconciliation in education is not created by a mission statement or buzz words. It is created by the actions of everyone within our learning communities across the country.

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