‘Deadly not dead’ was what came to mind for Rebecca Rechichi after attending her first Early Childhood Australia (ECA) Reconciliation Symposium in May held in Melbourne. Rebecca is an early childhood teacher from Western Australia and after attending the Symposium she approached ECA to discuss and reflect on her experience. This is her story.
ECA: Can you tell us a little background on yourself and your experience as an early childhood teacher?
Rebecca Rechichi: After attending the ECA Reconciliation Symposium this year I asked myself: why do I, an Australian Citizen and an Australian early childhood teacher, have such limited knowledge of our First Peoples language, culture and identity?
From my own experience growing up in New Zealand, I feel that it is important from an early age to learn and acknowledge the value and role that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have played in Australia’s history. Understanding and knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is vital to improving race relationships and adding value to the cultural identity of all Australians. We need to ask ourselves: ‘how inclusive is my practice of the values and beliefs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples?’
As a child in New Zealand, I remember my early years education reflected the hopes and aspirations of our Maori elders. For example, aspects of Maori perspectives were successfully integrated in all learning areas to positively strengthen and protect Maori traditions, language and culture. This was done through Maori songs, language, traditional experiences and dance.
ECA: How has the 2019 ECA Reconciliation Symposium inspired you to take the next steps in your service to incorporate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language, art, history and culture?
Rebecca Rechichi: Attending the 2019 ECA Reconciliation Symposium in Melbourne has been a catalyst for change for me. It has revealed to me the critical role I play, as an early childhood educator, in preserving and reviving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language and culture. I believe it is incumbent upon our government to learn, to celebrate and to advocate for change to build reconciliation from early childhood. We need to move from exclusion and tokenism to inclusion, to bridge the gaps, and to cull the negative stereotypes. In practicing inclusion as both educators and citizens we can rid Australia of prejudice and ignorance to form one united identity of equality and equity, historical acceptance, institutional integrity and unity. I see a future where all Australians are proud of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage of their country. To engage with children and immerse them in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture during their early years—while they are developing their world views—is important for laying the foundation of cultural equity.
We need to acknowledge all the hard work that has been done in this area so far, accept that we still have a long way to go, and share it with our children to help shape who they are. We need to re-learn and engage families in re-learning Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples perspectives on Australia’s history and what their hopes and aspirations are for future generations.
To do this in my pre-kindergarten classroom, I have reached out to our local Undalup Association Inc. to create activities for my students so that they can learn about our local Wadandi People, their Kaartdijin (knowledge) and understanding of Noongar Boodja (Country).
Undalup is also honouring a place for healing and connection to Noongar Boodjar (Country), embracing the elements given to us from Boodjar Ngarngk (Earth Mother), celebrating the ‘meeting place’ and bringing harmony on the land we all walk together.
(Iszaac Webb, Chairman of Undalup Association Inc., n.d).
My service has taken the aspiration to embed Aboriginal perspectives and ways of knowing in our centre during Reconciliation Week this year. All our invitations to play were based on the three colours of the Australian Aboriginal flag and their meanings: yellow—the sun, red—the earth and black—the Aboriginal people of Australia. Our sensory containers were filled with a variety of different naturally dyed red, black and yellow materials (sand, ice, native flora, seeds, rice and chickpeas). Children engaged in red/yellow/black painting on paper bark, made damper and cooked it over a campfire, and created wands with sticks and black/yellow/red ribbons. We also engaged the children in books written and illustrated by Aboriginal people introduced our class to the song Wanjoo by Gina Williams which is now sung throughout our school.
We are in the process of creating a Reconciliation Action Plan for Cornerstone Christian College (Dunsborough) with Narragunnawali. Our vision is to share the culture, traditions, knowledge and history of the Wadandi people in everyday classroom practice with an understanding of the importance of Boodja.
ECA: Finally, what are your hopes for reconciliation in the future and how do you see it as being an embedded part of early childhood education and care?
Rebecca Rechichi: I am privileged to be in a position to influence our young children. We as educators need local kinship and friendships with our Indigenous communities, so that they can personally engage with educating us and our children, so we can walk together towards a truly reconciled nation.
The beauty of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture needs to be shared and received for an inclusive Australian identity. I am going to connect with my local Indigenous community to learn the local Wadandi language as a small gesture to our Indigenous population. Let’s move forward together! What do you do to engage in authenticity?
ECA Research in Practice Series, Acceptance, justice and equality: exploring reconciliation in early childhood education and care
By Catharine Hydon and Adam Duncan
This edition of the Research in Practice Series aims to support early years practitioners in exploring reconciliation with young children. Starting with insights into the history of reconciliation in Australia, the book provides ideas for reflection and action towards a reconciled Australia. You can purchase or subscribe to get a copy here.
Free reconciliation resources
- ECA has free articles on reconciliation available here from ECA Every Child Magazines.
- Early Childhood Australia and SNAICC—National Voice for our Children joint position paper: Working Together to Ensure Equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children in the Early Years.