Developing shared understandings about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ connection to land

During NAIDOC week (5 to 12 July 2015) many early childhood services have acknowledged and celebrated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. I encourage all Early Childhood Services to reflect on the week, and particularly how culture can be embedded beyond the week’s activities.

I was cynically disappointed that a small minority of educational services did little to acknowledge Reconciliation week due to lack of sufficient time to plan or just plain ignorance. Reconciliation is about building better relationships between the wider Australian community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for the benefit of all Australians. The Reconciliation theme for 2015 is, “It’s time to Change it up”. Leading up to NAIDOC week, it’s never too late to “change it up”.

NAIDOC week celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The theme for 2015 was “We all Stand on Sacred Ground: Learn, Respect and Celebrate”.  This theme highlights Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ strong spiritual and cultural connection to land, country, sea and water and is the perfect opportunity to learn more about the connection to land for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.


Traditionally, NAIDOC week activities have included:

  • Displaying the National NAIDOC Poster or other Indigenous posters around your service.
  • Participating in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander arts and crafts activities.
  • Learning about a ‘famous’ Indigenous Australian.

I ask that we think deeply about these activities and what outcomes are we really expecting for children and educators. What more can we do? How can we move beyond tokenistic activities? Can you think of more genuine engaging activities that do not promote stereotypes? How can we further develop our understandings of Aboriginal ‘Ways of Knowing, Ways of Being and Ways of Doing’ (Martin, 2003).

The opportunities are boundless and are dependent upon the imagination of the educator.

We should be working with our local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community to learn more about and understand their connection to land through shared stories and shared understandings. Developing these shared understandings through a shared commitment is quite elaborate learning in terms of us understanding the land on which we are working.

What are you going to do to promote culture in developing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children’s sense of belonging, being and becoming? Additionally, how are you going to ensure this is embedded and not just something that we ‘do’ in Reconciliation and/or NAIDOC week?

Resources from ECA’s Reconciliation Symposium are available here.

Karen Sinclair

Karen Sinclair is a Ngarrindjeri woman from South Australia. Karen has taught in the Early Years of education and has also worked as an Early Years Project Officer. She is interested through her studies, research and work in Aboriginal Early Childhood education and pedagogical practices that engender transformative, inclusive practices for Aboriginal children. She is also undertaking her PhD in Indigenous studies. Her research investigates educators’ understandings and perspectives towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural competence as outlined in the Early Years Learning Framework through Q Methodology and an Indigenous methodology of Yarning through semi-structured interviews.

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