Reconciliation Symposium

Let’s take the next step!

“Language is the embodiment of culture”- Shaun Davis

Day 1:  What is Reconciliation?
Keynote Speaker – Justin Mohamed, CEO, Reconciliation Australia
Reconciliation Australia is an independent non-for-profit organisation that was established in 2001 as a lead body in Australia, who promotes and facilitates reconciliation through relationship building between the wider community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
Justin discussed two important anniversaries:
* 27 May 2017 is the 50th anniversary of the most successful Referendum in Australia’s history. The campaign leading up to the Referendum demonstrated that by keeping the public informed and giving clear information the message does get through. Ninety percent of Australians voted for the right of Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders to have a vote and be counted. It also demonstrated that Australians could come together as a country to bring together real and lasting change. Those two changes brought about by this landslide vote were the amendments of two sections of the Australian constitution. Section 51(xxvi) saw the words, "…other than the aboriginal people in any State…" and the entire section 127, removed. Aboriginal people were then included in the census and the federal government became responsible in relation to making laws for Aboriginal people rather than the states or territories having this responsibility. 

* 3 June 2017 is the 25th anniversary of the Mabo decision, which led to the recognition of the connection and rights to land of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and led to the passing of the 1993 Native Title Act in the Australian parliament.
Justin then went on to explain that until Australia records its history correctly, society as a whole could not reconcile. He says that in reconciling the wrongs of the past, one has to console those wronged. This means having the difficult conversations about what did occur, recognising and teaching these. There is a long way to go in educating Australians but we have the ability to change the direction of the nation by having these hard conversations and recognising the culture of this country teaching it and being proud of it.
“Until we fully embrace reconciliation we fall short of our potential as a nation. As long as we deny past wrongs, we cannot say we are reconciled. For this to be achieved, it will need to be actively supported by politicians, the business sector, education and society” – Justin Mohamed

Key note Speaker – Mark Yettica-Paulson, Joint Campaign Director, RECOGNISE
Recognise advocates for proper recognition of First Peoples.
Mark Yettica-Poulson spoke about how his parents’ experience in the 1940s shaped their parenting of their children. Their philosophy was to plant the seeds to teach the next generation equality and equity. The children were encouraged to not pass on the same distrust but rather pass on a sense of belief in a good society purposely raising children with a sense of harmony.
His message was clear. We have a responsibility to raise our children purposely to embrace cultural diversity.  
“You are a product of your time”
Panel – Perspectives on what it means to be Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander – personal stories of family, culture, language and Country.
Facilitated by – Joanne Goodwin
    Aunty Denise Proud
    Lisa Sorbie Martin     
    Jessica Staines
    Ben Abbatangelo
The four panel members shared very different stories about what it meant to be either Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and how society perceived them, growing up. However, the shared message is that having a sense of identity, staying strong in your roots and remaining connected to country and its people gives you more confidence to branch out into the world
“We need to spend more time with one another and be kind. Kindness is cool!”
Yugambeh Museum Language and Heritage Research Centre - Rory O’Connor
“Jingeri! (a greeting and the word for a Willy wagtail bird) 
Why is language Important? – 250 language groups existed in Australia before settlement, with so many more dialects per region. Unfortunately, many language groups have been lost. Today, there are less than 20 Aboriginal languages spoken, recognised, and documented, across the country. A staggering loss to an incredibly old culture.
The research that Yugambeh Museum, headed by Rory O’Connor, demonstrates that preservation of language qualifies how a community and culture perceive themselves. Bilingual students outperform monolingual students in a number of areas including cognitive flexibility and metalinguistic awareness, including, and most importantly, community sensitivity. This alone speaks loudly the importance of language and how it can unite a community, its people and society in recognising difference as value.
“It’s tomorrow’s children that we are here for. Let us ensure all our children know their culture. Sharing language is one way to support this.” (Rory O’Connor)
Keynote Speakers – Dr Lyn Fasoli and Associate Professor Elaine Lawurrpa Maypilama
Discussed the “Growing up Children’ project.
This project aims to – 
* Share Yolngu knowledge about growing up
* Find out what is important to Yolngu and what and how to support development
* Share information to make assessment processes that do not confuse difference with deficit

These keynote speakers focused on the notion that educators, allied health professionals and society in general, do confuse difference with deficit in aboriginal children and it is important that educator’s recognise that there is more than one way to learn. 

A case study conducted through he Batchelor Institute described and discussed how, over a period of 3 years,  six aboriginal children were followed in their development and learning.  The children’s families recorded video evidence (100+ videos collected) with the aim to document how the children learnt in the context of their traditional life in the community. The video material provides evidence of the children accomplishing normal developmental milestones and cultural specific norms. The research will support the development of resources, in language, and demonstrate that learning can be both ways, Balanda and Yolngu way. A positive step to demonstrating and supporting future children on their educational path.

Lawurrpa summed up the research and working together in both worlds, Yolngu and Balanda. 
“Grow our children in colourful way – heart and mind.”
Panel – Understanding Aboriginal pedagogy: Ways of knowing and being.
Facilitated by – Catharine Hydon
Panel –     Fiona Bobongie
    Kerryn Moroney
    Kate Van Niewkuyk
The panel touched on a number of pressing points that we need to reflect on when thinking of young children and how we can support them to grow and learn:
* It is about having a conversation that builds relationships – “Who you are and who do you know? How do we connect?”
* It is about reflecting on your own performance, unconscious biases, and not making assumptions. Rather, letting go of preconceived ideas.
* The Stronger Smarter program considers and values the impact on the space/child involved in transitions from home to school and those involved educators in creating these spaces for learning.
* It is about developing reciprocal relationships over time. Be patient. Do not be the expert but respect the culture. This ensures that practices are authentic rather than tokenistic. 
Day 1 was an incredibly thought provoking day with the main message for me: 
“How can we reconcile if we have not consoled the first peoples?” 
The keynote speakers and panels discussed the importance of language – preserving language, recognising language, sharing and learning about Australia’s aboriginal history and having those difficult conversations. Also of importance is reflecting on our own heritage, values and biases of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their culture. Not to confuse difference with deficit when responding to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in early childhood settings. Aim to raise a generation of children who are willing to learn from one another, and share and embrace cultural diversity.

Day 2:  How do we progress Reconciliation?    
Reconciliation Action Area 1: Opportunities
Narragunnawali: Reconciliation in Schools and Early Learning – Alex Shain
Panel – Rachel Sydir – Explore and Develop Penrith and South Penrith
       Narelle Lightbody – Fraser Coast Family Day Care Service
       Karly Hadenfeldt – C & K ELC Brisbane.
Alex Shain introduced the concept of using a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) in Early Learning settings to support educators to introduce the concept of reconciliation to children – Narragunnawali. The website was demonstrated, supported by the panel of speakers from a range of early learning centres that had begun using the RAP within their services - how this looked for each of them and where they saw this journey of reconciliation taking them. Each panel member agreed that this program provides a good starting point.
Reconciliation Action Area 2: Respect
Panel – The role of early childhood educators in ending racism and promoting cultural inclusion.
Facilitated by – Joanne Goodwin
    Dr Annie Pettitt     Rhonda Livingstone
    Catharine Hydon    Melinda Miller
Does racism exist in early childhood settings? Do Educators display unconscious biases?
The panel provided an insight into what they see within early childhood settings around Australia. They provoked thinking about our own practices and educators’ abilities to make changes for the future through conversations and sharing culture.

Reconciliation Action Area 3: Relationships
Panel – Support available to develop cultural awareness and build inclusion
Facilitated by – Catharine Hydon
    John Briggs     Roslyn Vos
    Geraldine Atkinson    Susan Werner
The panel discussed building service teams’ cultural competency, recognising that cultural inclusion is not just about multiculturalism, but also about recognising living and acknowledging Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Being aware and having conversations about the land that we live on, the seasons, language used, plants and animals in the area that we live. Becoming aware and teaching our children, all our children, the richness of our history. Starting somewhere even if it appears to be tokenistic, the importance here is recognising that and building on it though having meaningful conversations. If we do nothing there will be a whole other generation thinking the same, not knowing, not understanding. The more we have conversations the more likely we break down the racism barrier and teach our children social justice. 
Inspire – Provoke – Challenge – Be champions of change.
Closing Keynote – Marcus Pedro, Three Warriors Within
Marcus Pedro told an inspiring story of his journey through life and racism to achieve personal success in both his academic career and personal life. He highlighted how important educators are and can be in evoking in children a sense of ‘I can achieve’ by being thoughtful in all conversations and involvement with all children.
Day 2 Summary
As Alex Shain described there are 5 dimensions to understanding Reconciliation;
1. Race relationships
2. Equality and Equity
3. Unity
4. Institutional Integrity
5. History acceptance
As a nation we have to accept, openly acknowledge and have those hard conversations about the wrongs of the past in order to move forward, as we are only as strong as the weakest. 
The Key Note speakers and Panel members shared their thoughts on how as educators we can introduce the conversations around Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, language, and knowledge with the children in the early learning settings. How as educators it is important to have these conversations to teach the future generations the richness of our history and culture.
What this means to me as a professional in the early childhood sector. 
Since the symposium, I have had many thoughts, questions and answers too, regarding the nature and level of reconciliation involvement in the Northern Territory. I have questioned why the Territory, in particular Central Australia, seems to be lagging behind the rest of Australia in consoling and educating the territory’s children about the truth of Australia’s history. If we consider only the mainstream early learning settings, a disparity seems to exist between children’s exposure to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture compared to the focus on international cultural understanding - missing the opportunity to learn and embrace the richness of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.
Remote communities in the NT, however, often live their traditional culture; communities are maintaining their language, stories and traditions in hunting, cooking and child rearing. Whereas it appears that communities of the eastern coast are grappling with the loss of their cultural identity, and trying to regain this, the Aboriginal peoples of Central Australia still have a strong sense of land, language, cultural history and each other. They are living and breathing this each day. 
For educators in remote communities there is not then a thought to program daily cultural recognition, as embedded cultural practices exist due to the predominant cultural background of the people who work within these services.
However, once these children commence formal education this cultural identity is often disregarded. This disregard of an important aspect of children’s daily learning can result in disempowerment of the child, diminishing their sense of worth, pride in their identity, and culture.
If early childhood educators in all locations teach to the culture, embed activities, actions, conversations, stories, pride and recognition of differences, then the Territory as a whole can lead the rest of Australia in demonstrating active teaching of, and pride in culture through all levels of education and care.

Special Interest Groups. 
Susan Werner has been instrumental in setting up a Special Interest Group (SIG), Talking Reconciliation, with ECA members in Victoria. The group aims to achieve change in early years learning on a number of topics including talking reconciliation. The group aims to reach its objectives through research and reading groups, networking, visits, guest speakers and advocacy.
Talking Reconciliation plans to support educators to include indigenous perspectives in a meaningful way. 
Setting up such SIG in the Territory would be a valuable opportunity to bring together ECA Members and others to share their knowledge and skills around reconciliation and about how to introduce aboriginal perspectives into their services.
Susan Werner, who heads up the SIG in Victoria, and Catharine Hydon have offered to support the establishment of a similar group in the NT, supporting the development of a more inclusive culture within services.
“If we do nothing, we risk a whole other generation thinking the same, not knowing or understanding!”