You might not adopt these behaviours on a day-to-day basis, but you comply as a sign of respect for the cultural protocol. Protocols exist at more local levels too. Many clubs, restaurants, bars, sporting and arts events have expectations about behaviour and in some cases a dress code, designed to uphold the values of the organisation and to enhance the experience of everyone.
Protocols for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are about respect, understanding and relationships. They guide the way Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people interact with each other and country. In general terms protocols enshrine and uphold the way Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people want to be treated as people. At the same time, you need to be mindful of the diversity of the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.
To learn more about how to best work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in your school community the publication Protocols for working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples by the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body is a good place to start. The Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) website has a lot of useful information including a section on cultural protocols. Another very useful source of information is the NSW Mental Health Coordinating Council’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Protocols and Resources page.
Welcome to Country & Acknowledgement of Country
An Acknowledgement of Country can be given by any person; indeed, you should avoid deliberately asking the Aboriginal person in the group to give the Acknowledgement. Anyone can do it; the most important thing is to mean what is said. In the Education Directorate, formal meetings like school staff meetings, School Boards and inter-directorate meetings usually start with an Acknowledgement of Country. Meetings of P&Cs would presumably do so too. Here are some examples you could use and there are tips here if you are uncertain.
A Welcome to Country, given by a Ngunnawal Elder, should be reserved for events of significance. Examples might be opening an awards night or special assembly, addressing a major gathering to launch a new program or open a building or new school. A rule of thumb is if VIPs are involved, you probably should have a Welcome to Country. A fee is involved so check this when making the arrangements. The ACT Community Services website has information, on how to organise a Welcome to Country locally.
You might think that cultural protocols would apply for permission to use Ngunnawal language. To some extent they do in the sense that it is good practice to acknowledge your sources or explain your meaning. You can use Ngunnawal words that are becoming more widespread, such as yuma which means hello or yarra, goodnight, both of which are used by ABC news reader Dan Bourchier. If your audience is unlikely to understand the meaning of these words, you would explain them and state they are in Ngunnawal language. More formal processes need to be followed to have words translated and approved to use, say, in naming a building. This is likely to involve working with local Indigenous families before seeking assistance from Ngunnawal Elders.
Cultural Integrity in ACT Public Schools
Working with cultural integrity is a priority for ACT public schools. Cultural integrity means that:
- our schools and workplaces are culturally safe places for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, staff, families and community members
- our staff are accountable for meeting the aspirations, learning and wellbeing needs of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students
- we actively work to develop understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures, languages and knowledge systems through professional learning and curriculum delivery
- we work on developing and maintaining genuine, collaborative and respectful relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents, families, local community members, service providers and agencies
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures and contributions to contemporary society are actively represented in the physical infrastructure and online presence of our schools and workplaces.
Understanding what cultural integrity in ACT public schools means will help P&Cs decide if they need to develop a set of cultural protocols or whether there are other ways that might be better suited to their situations. A set of model protocols is not necessarily the answer but the behaviours that underpin them are absolutely required. ●