THINGS FOR ALLIES TO KEEP IN MIND
Assume there’s plenty you don’t know: Learning and healing are interwoven. A little humility goes a long way. So start by assuming there’s lots you’re not aware of. That’s ok. In fact, it’s an outcome of Australia’s cultural amnesia – our history of silencing and discrimination.
Don’t take yourself too seriously: Not everything needs to be worthy and serious. We’re ever-adapting and can have a laugh when we see the irony of our shared histories. Satire and parody are strategies of resistance. They humanise us all. And if you are not sure if it’s ok to laugh, just ask.
Don’t lump everyone together: Like all sectors of the community, First Peoples are diverse culturally, have varying social and political opinions, histories and relationships. While large sectors of our community live below the poverty line, we also have millionaires. They all still belong to community – so, it isn’t one-size-fits-all.
Be patient: For broader Australian society, having the robust conversations we need to have will be challenging. The dialogue will be uncomfortable as we grow and trust is built. It’s about listening, and understanding that there is another narrative to the history that has not been told. And it will take time.
Allow time for cultural observances: Allow ample lead times when working in collaboration. First Nations artists carry cultural and community obligations, especially when dealing with new work relating to specific cultural importance and age-old knowledge. When a meeting is cancelled it could be for a variety of reasons such a ceremony and/or Sorry Business.
Respect self determination and create safety: Our protocols and stewardship dictate that we honour our sky, land and water ancestors, the gifts of the land we are on, and the peoples of that Country who have continued ancient obligations in the face of many challenges, be they colonisation, the climate crisis and/or government policy. In this context, your patience, advocacy, understanding and flexibility when collaborating helps ensure that self-determination is respected and continued connections are safeguarded.
Consult with care: Whether based in urban, regional, rural or remote communities, our custodians carry responsibilities for the traditional stories, song, dance and language of Country – so continuing creative practices have broader implications. Nobody knows everything or everyone, so ensuring the right people, sectors of the community, and even genders (when dealing with Women and or Men’s Business) is essential.
Don’t jump into silences: Give it time and people will talk in their own way. In a meeting, blackfellas are aware of the kinship structure in the room, who needs to talk first, when you can ask questions and how much is given in the first connection.
Two-way side-by-side: Ensure an equality of voice when developing new collaborative work. The truth is, we all need each other. So avoid ‘us’ and them’. This centres you and makes someone else the ‘other’. Collaboration and cultural teaching is all about two-way side-by-side – Indigenous to non-indigenous and non-indigenous to Indigenous, old to young and young to old – it’s how transfer of knowledge and generational exchange happens.
Accept that some tasks aren’t for you: Decolonising material, for instance, should be written by First Nations people. Non-indigenous people are observers of, and participants in, colonisation. They haven’t experienced certain structural and systemic behaviour that will be common for First Nations peoples, and they will often have personally benefited from colonisation. The lived First Nations experience shifts the mindset.
Give credit appropriately and generously: Australia does not yet have a law that prevents alteration, distortion or misuse of traditional symbols, songs, dances, performances and story that may be part of the heritage of particular First Nations language groups.
Pay people properly: Your budget needs to include compensation for expertise and research, community consultation and guidance. Have a process of developing a financial relationship alongside a personal commitment for cultural safety and knowledge holding.
Treat relationships with care and respect: Time is always put aside for visitors. Ensure the approach is one of visiting a loved one – take a gift of food – as you would to your grandma (it’s not charity). Baking bread is symbolic. Many poorer communities, for example, can’t afford fresh produce. In those cases, a bag of fresh fruit would be very much appreciated.
Have a go: When seeking connection and communication, you don’t have to get it perfect. Some communities might not have a reference point regarding your project. But don’t underestimate people’s knowledge. Instead, give a truthful and open pitch that enables tough questions to be asked.
Mentor and share knowledge: Be aware of varied cultural differences and capacity. It’s two-way learning – when you work with a community you receive knowledge and awareness and, in return, they receive your expertise and skills.
Be committed and genuine: If you believe in equality and diversity, ask yourself the simple questions that deepen your efforts: How am I engaging? Who on my team is from a First Nations background and/or is a person of colour? Where is the venue and who are the local mob? Do I know how to say hello and farewell to audiences in the local language?
One-on-one experience: Have you spent time connecting with Country? Book your next weekend or holiday with an Aboriginal operated cultural tourism experience using the only Aboriginal-led national booking agent, ‘Welcome to Country’
Don’t assume: Don’t assume just because someone is First Nations, they’ll necessarily be an environmental expert. While First Nations folks may be connected to ancient teachings and cultures with valuable perspective and potential for access to important knowledge, being First Nations doesn’t magically confer knowledge in this area. Many people have been disconnected from traditional lands through government removal policies over generations. For those and other reasons, many may not know elements of ceremony and culture, including language, or have appropriate cultural permissions, seniority or experience to share knowledge relating to culture and Country. The truth is, we’re collectively working through such big stuff. And everyone has their part to play. Part of yours is to create space and work to empower others, while not bringing unrealistic assumptions or expectations to the table.
For more, check out our additional resources on the subject, get educated and get active.