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Working with communities

Why consult Aboriginal communities?

Collaboration with members of the local Aboriginal community, organisations and contact people is essential in developing effective school-based teaching and learning experiences that emphasise Aboriginal and Indigenous knowledge and understanding. Involvement of Aboriginal consultants and the school support people from your system in liaising with communities is an important part of this process.(Some Comments from Project Participants)

Consultation establishes a local focus on Aboriginal perspectives in Science and acknowledges Aboriginal people as custodians and owners of their knowledge and cultures, allowing Aboriginal students, non-Aboriginal students and teachers to develop mutual knowledge and understanding. Regular interaction with members of the local Aboriginal community will not only assist in developing suitable contextual resources, but will also be a source of cultural affirmation for Aboriginal students.

Margaret Simoes, Aboriginal Education Consultant, Catholic Education Office, on working with communities

Margaret Simoes

Audio transcripts

Observing appropriate protocols when working with Aboriginal people and their communities is critical to establishing positive and respectful relationships. For comprehensive information on appropriate protocols to be followed when working with Aboriginal communities and individuals, teachers should refer to the NSW Board of Studies publication Working with Aboriginal Communities: A Guide to Community Consultation and Protocols.

Important Protocols

The following extract from this publication is a list of protocols that are generally agreed in communities across NSW.

  • Introductory protocols are important. Be prepared to spend time sharing personal background information about yourself and the purpose of your visit.
  • Be patient when asking questions. Look, listen and learn, as it may take time for some community people to become involved. Some people may work towards giving their opinions by initially talking about other issues or stories.
  • Do not expect every Aboriginal person (including students in the school) to know about or want to talk publicly about Aboriginal cultures, families, histories or issues.
  • Some Aboriginal people might not openly express an opinion. They may choose to talk indirectly about an issue if they do not agree with the previous speaker. Not all Aboriginal people will share the same opinions and feelings. All opinions should be acknowledged and valued.
  • In some communities, direct eye contact may be expected and accepted because of your teaching role. In others, however, it may be considered offensive. The use of direct eye contact differs from community to community, and from individual to individual. Protocols will need to be determined for specific cases. Contact your departmental or diocesan workers for advice.
  • The use of silence should not be misunderstood. It may mean people do not want to express an opinion at that point in time, or they are listening and reflecting about what has been said. It is important that this silence is respected and not interrupted unnecessarily. Silence is not a chance to take a break or leave the room, but rather an opportunity to contemplate what is being spoken about.
  • There are different types of knowledge, for example spiritual knowledge and scientific knowledge and these may conflict. One should be sensitive to these differences when talking to an Aboriginal person about issues and experiences.
  • Do not force a point of view. Aboriginal people and communities have knowledge that may differ from yours. Remember you are there to seek their knowledge and opinions.
  • Use language that respects the integrity and beliefs of the person or group with whom you are meeting. Avoid jargon and do not use acronyms.
  • Be prepared to accept that some questions may remain unanswered, for example sacred/secret knowledge or knowledge from people who have not grown up with their cultural ties.
  • Family obligations and funerals affect many people in an Aboriginal community and may impact on previous obligations made to a school. Immediate and extended family obligations will always take first priority.
  • Deaths can affect not just one family but also a whole community. Refer to systemic Aboriginal support personnel as to the local protocols regarding speaking the name of a person who has passed away, and showing their photograph.
  • Remember that different families have different values and cultural beliefs, even if they are from the same community.
  • Consult with a variety of community people.

Aboriginal people from your local community will be able to provide assistance in finding out about specific protocols to be considered.

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