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NAIDOC 2021: On ancient cultures, and modern workplaces

By Professor Deen Sanders OAM

Through his eyes…

Professor Deen Sanders OAM is a Worimi Man and Lead Partner at Deloitte. He shares his thoughts for NAIDOC week 2021.

As an Aboriginal person, it is my deeply held belief that every person benefits from living in better relationship with their community and country. So how do we do that in the context of the present day workplace?

For the last 200 years or so we have thought that connecting with community was something you could only do after first meeting your obligations to productively engage with the workplace of labour, machine or desk. Something I hear frequently these days is how COVID lockdowns and the general arc of changing workplace practices are moving us into a new relationship with home, family and community. For many this is a revelation, but it’s of little surprise to Aboriginal Australians because work was not separated from living, it was woven into the fabric of life. Cities were never going to entirely erase the heartbeat of country or overturn hard learned, ancient lessons, about how to thrive. Country, community and family were always at the heart of it.

Both modern workplace theory and my ancient culture tells me that cities and workplaces are also living systems and like all living systems, they should be measured in the strength of their heartbeat, rather than in the mere existence of a heart. Genuinely looking for the joy in Aboriginal culture as an enhancement to your workplace is a powerful way to find that heartbeat – and NAIDOC week is a perfect way in.

You probably have a Reconciliation Action Plan initiative underway for NAIDOC and that is good – but I also encourage you to widen the lens for your workplace. As corporate tools RAP’s can narrow our focus to acts of doing good (asking how can we help our Indigenous community) or worse, become a tool for benefit extraction (what recognition/ brand/ marketing benefit can we get?). There is utility in that approach. It is a good start and Indigenous Australia will strengthen from commercial alignment – but utility is a poor measure of a heartbeat.

I want more from our workplaces than this and I want more for our workplaces than this. Not because Indigenous Australia deserves more (although it does) but because we have gifts for you that extend far beyond the metrics in a RAP, and they will change how we succeed in this country.

NAIDOC is a way into that as a celebration of the diverse cultures and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We invite you to see our history and achievements as not only measured in story, dance and art but also as a way to think about the world, a way to engage in productive relationships and leadership and to thriving in this country.

The 2021 NAIDOC theme of Heal Country, Heal Our Nation is a genuine claim. Healing our nation will come from healing our country. Creating workspaces that recognise the living relationship we have with the space around us and giving permission for people to sit, play and work in relationship to that landscape is the best measure of the strength of your heartbeat.

This article was originally published by Diversity Council Australia.

Read more DCA research on the topic:

Gari Yala (Speak the Truth): Centreing the experiences of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Australians at work

Gari Yala (Speak the Truth)
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NAIDOC 2021: From standing alone to standing together

By John Paul Janke

I’ve always had a special connection to NAIDOC Week; it holds such special memories for me.

In the 1970s, I remember gatherings and street marches in Cairns with my family and when we moved to Canberra in the late 1970s – attending many community and public events across National Capital.

Back then, NAIDOC had just expanded from one day called ‘National Aborigines Day’ to a week of celebrations. National Aborigines Day was the second Friday in July. Nationally that was the one significant day for events, marches and celebrations.

My dad worked in the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and he organised many of the public events here in Canberra. I recall handing out posters and stickers with him at the local shopping malls, meeting iconic Aboriginal identities like David Gulpilil, Lionel Rose, Evonne Cawley, Charles Perkins and seeing how traditional performances of songs, culture and dancing captivated a wider non-Indigenous public.

Sadly, I also recall the taunts of kids at school on National Aborigines Day saying to me that it was ‘National Boong Day’, ‘Abo Day’ or even ‘my birthday.’

We’ve worked hard to move past that kind of school yard ignorance.

More than ever before, our nation is embarking on conversations about its history – our real history – and about the ‘unfinished business’ of this country – its relationship with its First Nations people.

For me, NAIDOC Week plays such a vital part in these discussions through the hundreds of events each year organised by our communities, government agencies, corporates companies, local councils, universities, schools, and workplaces.

We all know it is beyond time for these conversations.

NAIDOC Week each July unfurls such an enormous sense of pride for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the Country.

All Australians should share that pride – celebrating and acknowledging with pride that this continent is home to the oldest living continuous culture of the planet.

Is that not something that all Australians should celebrate?

As the Co-Chair of the National NAIDOC Committee, it gives me enormous satisfaction to witness the growing enthusiasm and interest for NAIDOC Week each year and the sheer diversity and breadth of celebrations across the nation.

I sometimes smirk when I think back to those school kids who taunted me decades ago in that their children or grandchildren are now learning more about Indigenous history, culture and achievement than ever before.

As Co-Chair of the National NAIDOC Committee it is my role to help facilitate their understanding and awareness.

Image: National NAIDOC committee

Image: National NAIDOC Committee. John Paul Janke, centre.

That awareness can be as easy as learning whose traditional country you live on, learning the names of other Indigenous clans or nations, learning some local language, or knowing of the sacred places in the country that surrounds you.

It is language and knowledge spanning the rise and fall of every other great civilisation on the planet.

Take this challenge: Ask yourself how many First Nations of North America can you name? Maybe like me you can name a few: the Cherokee, Apache, Navajo, Sioux, Cheyenne, Iroquois, or Lakota nations.

Can you recall the same amount for this continent’s Aboriginal nations?

For me, it also time to start engaging in conversations about sovereignty, of Frontier Conflict, of Invasion, of theft of land, of massacres and of the fiction of terra nullius. They are the stories of our shared history – our nation’s story.

Without learning of them – we have been robbed of the history of this country.

I love the opening line in the 2020 Midnight Oil single Terror Australia (written by Peter Garrett & and the late Bones Hillman and sung by Naarm (Melbourne) based Wergaia/Wemba Wemba woman Alice Skye):

“You can’t think about the future still running from the past.”

We must never forget that NAIDOC Week is a week borne from a day of protest, a movement towards justice, equality, and freedom and basic human rights.

It’s a week that celebrates and acknowledges our history, our present and looks with hope towards the future.

There is no other week quite like NAIDOC Week. Join Us.

Happy NAIDOC Week 2021.

This article was originally published by Diversity Council Australia.

Read more DCA research on the topic:

Gari Yala (Speak the Truth): Centreing the experiences of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Australians at work

Gari Yala (Speak the Truth)
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Posted in Diversity & Inclusion

Observing or marking. Rather than celebrating. NAIDOC week as a non-indigenous Australian.

The story goes that a couple of well-meaning inner urbanites had a front door plaque that read “We are proud to acknowledge Aboriginal people as traditional owners of these lands and waters”. And when a couple of said Aboriginal people came knocking on the door to be welcomed home, the door was opened and then firmly shut on them. There was no happy ending for anyone in this story.

NAIDOC week is an important week in our calendar, celebratory for many, and for Indigenous culture. But it’s also an awkward week for non-indigenous Australians, uncomfortable truths, uncertainty navigating what is respectful and celebratory, and what is paternalist and privileged. I feel it personally in the small and large things in daily life; we have a flag pole at our place, and yet I’m not sure what the protocol is about flying the Indigenous flag this week when I’m not Indigenous. I want to show my heartfelt support for the First Nations people of Australia but I’m unclear whether that’s ok, and if it’s seen as lip service.  

I’m learning, but too slowly and I’m not always sure of what resources are available to steer my understanding and insights.

In recent years I’ve made the mistake of saying in a public forum
“Welcome to Country” when only Traditional Owners/Custodians of the land on which the event takes place can deliver a Welcome to Country. It’s not a mistake I’ll ever make again; if a Traditional Owner is not available to do a Welcome to Country, an Acknowledgement of Country can be delivered instead.

I currently have no colleagues who identify as ATSI (Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander), Indigenous or First Nations, and yet all the while I’ve been working on a number of Indigenous related projects this year. Why am I working on these and not with someone with Indigenous heritage?  Should we all be trying harder to address this lack of diversity? But here’s the rub. Only 3% of all Australian’s identify as Indigenous, and the most recent ABS statistics from 2016 show the spread of our Indigenous country men and women doesn’t always correlate with meeting diversity targets.

Estimated resident population, Indigenous status, 30 June 2016

  Aboriginal only Torres Strait Islander only Both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Total Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Non-Indigenous Total
  no. no. no. no. no. no.
NSW 254,842 5,888 4,955 265,685 7,467,173 7,732,858
VIC 54,044 2,350 1,373 57,767 6,115,405 6,173,172
QLD 176,910 24,873 19,493 221,276 4,623,876 4,845,152
SA 40,393 1,115 757 42,265 1,670,578 1,712,843
WA 96,497 1,882 2,133 100,512 2,455,466 2,555,978
TAS 26,152 1,322 1,063 28,537 488,977 517,514
NT 71,288 1,020 2,238 74,546 171,132 245,678
ACT 7,113 196 204 7,513 395,591 403,104
AUS 727,485 38,660 32,220798,36523,392,54224,190,907

Estimated resident Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, Remoteness Areas, 30 June 2016

  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Non-Indigenous Total
Remoteness Areas % % %
Major Cities 37.4 72.7 71.6
Inner Regional 23.7 17.8 18.0
Outer Regional 20.3 8.0 8.4
Remote 6.7 1.0 1.2
Very Remote 11.9 0.5 0.8

indigenous.gov.au

Having a job helps people build the future they want for their families and their communities.

Supporting people to find and stay in work and making sure everyone has the opportunity to own your own home, run your own business, and provide for yourself and your families will mean a strong future for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

To make this happen, government and communities need to work together to:

  • increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have work
  • train more people for local jobs in their communities
  • support Indigenous rangers to manage land and sea country
  • progress land and Native Title claims
  • negotiate more community held township leases.

The Government works with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, to help you build your future your way. Different communities will have different priorities and different ways they want to develop and sustain economic independence in their region.

Many of these events are linked to this year’s theme, Always Was, Always Will Be. The theme recognises that First Nations people have occupied and cared for this continent for over 65,000 years and their spiritual and cultural connection to Country. This has heightened my awareness and understanding of the challenges and opportunities to First Nations people.

The government introduced the Indigenous Procurement Policy (IPP) on 1 July 2015 to give Indigenous businesses greater opportunity at winning Commonwealth contracts. The IPP leverages the Commonwealth’s annual multi-billion procurement spend to drive demand for Indigenous goods and services, stimulate Indigenous economic development and grow the Indigenous business sector. For more information refer to Indigenous Procurement Policy.

Links

www.iworkjobsite.com.au

iWork is now Australia’s leading Indigenous jobs board with over 5,000 Indigenous people registered for direct work opportunities

https://www.indigenous.gov.au/news-and-media/announcements/grants-deliver-scholarship-program-call-applications

https://www.indigenous.gov.au/news-and-media/announcements/indigenous-business-month-2020-award-winners

https://www.indigenous.gov.au/news-and-media/announcements/indigenous-apprenticeships-program-0www.supplynation.com 

Supply Nation provides Australia’s leading database of verified Indigenous businesses which can be searched by business name, product, service, area, or category.

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