Black Lives Matter in Australia, in early education and everywhere

The power of Stan Grant as a storyteller and journalist was palpable in the Four Corners episode ‘I Can’t Breath’ that aired on ABC TV last night (13 July 2020). The program explores an Australian perspective on the Black Lives Matter movement and why this is a critical moment in history.

It was 25 May 2020, in Minneapolis (United States), when George Floyd, an African American was killed by a member of the police force that is meant to keep the community safe and protect its citizens. This shocking incident brought racism against people of colour to the fore across America with millions of people attending Black Lives Matter protest rallies to demonstrate their outrage and demand change.

Here in Australia, it struck a chord as well. The Black Lives Matter rallies held across the country remind us of our own shame. The deaths of David Dungay Jnr, Tanya Day, Ms Dhu and the more than 430 Aboriginal people known to have died in custody since the release of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody delivered its final report in 1991. This is not just an issue of police integrity. The use of excessive force towards people of colour is an international problem that reflects a deeper level of systemic racism and unfair treatment across many of our western societies that are meant to be founded on human rights, fairness and unprejudiced justice systems.

Right at the end of the Four Corners episode Stan Grant says that here in Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people ‘long for that moment when we can all be free, when we don’t have to be framed by race and history’.

He also says that he wants his children to live ‘in a world where they can be all that they can be’; not framed by race or colour. Across the ECA network we all want that too and we understand that an inclusive and fair society that is enriched by Indigenous culture is better for all children. Racism and prejudice erode children’s potential and lessen our collective capacity to build respectful and cohesive communities.

Every child has a right to thrive.

But as the Four Corners program makes clear, this is not going to happen on its own, we must all commit to do our part and make it a reality. This is not an issue only for Indigenous Australians; this is an issue for all Australians. We must get involved, we must listen and we must learn to be good allies. As Stan Grant puts it ‘our people ask all of you to walk that last part of the journey with us’.

‘We need good allies’ writes Summer May Finlay, who is often asked by others how they can be a useful ally to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. ‘We are only three per cent of the Australian population. We can’t raise the profile of issues affecting us without our allies. But what does a good ally look like?’

What does it mean for those of us in the early childhood sector to be a good ally? Some questions ECA has seen circulating:

  • What does this mean for my practice?
  • How does the Black Lives Matter movement link with our early learning setting?
  • What can I do to make a difference?
  • How can we or should we discuss with young children what the Black Lives Matters protests represent: deaths in custody, disturbing and violent issues and events?

For ECA, our commitment to social justice and human rights runs deep; however we are mindful that our involvement in the Black Lives Matter campaign has to be much more than just making a statement. It has to be grounded in our work—reconciliation, ethics and quality improvement. We must amplify the voice of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and be an effective ally to those who are tired of inaction, inadequate responses and glib reassurance that things will get better one day in the distant future.

This requires a deep transformation across our society.

Teachers and educators are at the forefront of this. The experiences of children who are in our hands are clearly demonstrated in the documentary In My Blood it Runs, which follows 10-yr-old Arrernte Aboriginal boy Dujuan as he grows up in Alice Springs, Australia.

As previous Inquiries and Royal Commissions have shown (e.g. Bringing them Home: ‘The Stolen children’ Report, 1997, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, 2019), past practices need to be faced, acknowledged and addressed. The educational sector has taken part in practices that have created harm and disruption, which have not expressed the value that black lives matter and which we now reject as a sector and as a society.

We all have to ask ourselves—what are we doing individually and collectively on a daily basis to build positive futures for every child in Australia? Are we doing enough to reject racism and challenge unethical practice?  How do we build a more equitable, inclusive and reconciled nation?

We have been guided by our Reconciliation Advisory Group to be courageous, more vigilant and more uncompromising to keep renewing our commitment to a reconciled Australia for our children, now and into the future.

Our commitment to reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the broader Australian community has to be long-term and it has to be a priority. There is no quick fix or silver bullet solution. At the same time we cannot stand back and allow another generation of children to be exposed to racism and inequality. We all have to get involved.  Rallies may not be for everyone but it is important to understand that we must transform our country—we must move from ignorance and racism, to respect; from inequity and prejudice, to justice; and from inaction and fear, to hope. It is in this transformation, both personal and organisational, that the promise of a strong future for every Australian child is realised.

We have so much to gain as a community from teaching young children about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and heritages, through respectful engagement with local communities, their stories, histories, artefacts, languages, art and music and when we celebrate the achievements of individuals and communities, promoting positive contemporary examples of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identities. If you are not sure where to start we have provided some links below.

We must reject racism, in all of its forms and instead work together, alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to build a better nation where every child—regardless of colour—can thrive.

Useful Links

Features to watch

  • ABC TV, July 2020, ‘I can’t breathe’, Four Corners Series 2020, presenter Stan Grant.
  • In My Blood it Runs—Ten-year-old Dujuan is a child-healer, a good hunter and speaks three languages. We walk with him as he grapples with these pressures, shares his truths and somewhere in-between finds space to dream, imagine and hope for his future self.
  • The Final Quarter is a confronting and powerful documentary about the treatment of Adam Goodes, one of the country’s greatest sporting heroes. Using only archival footage, the film documents the racism the AFL champion experienced in the final three years of his playing career.
  • Narragunnawali—Belonging, Being & Becoming Meets People, Culture & Country – Teachers and educators compare the three ‘big ideas’ (Belonging, Being and Becoming) of the Early Years Learning Framework to the three key concepts (People, Culture and Country/Place) of the Australian Curriculum Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures cross-curriculum priority.

Websites to visit

  • Narragunnawali supports schools and early learning services in Australia to develop environments that foster a high level of knowledge and pride in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures and contributions.
  • SNAICC – Voice for our Children—The Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care (SNAICC) is the national non-government peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
  • National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day (4 August)—held every year on 4 August this is a day for celebrating children and culture. The 2020 theme is ‘We are the elders of tomorrow, hear our voice’.
  • Reconciliation Australia is the lead body for reconciliation in Australia that promotes and facilitates reconciliation by building relationships, respect and trust between the wider Australian community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  • Racism Stops with Me—It can be easy to ignore it, or think it’s not worth the trouble to respond. But that can just help make it acceptable. All of us can say no to prejudice. All of us can take a stand against discrimination.
  • Uluru: Statement from the Heart and the From the Heart Toolkit.
  • SBS and NSW Department of Education (2017), Face up to Racism.

Books to read

This book bravely addresses the complex and fraught issue of Aboriginal child abuse. She argues that Aboriginal child sexual assault has been formed within the entrenched societal forces of racism, colonisation and patriarchy, yet cast in the Australian public domain as an Aboriginal ‘problem’, with controversial government responses critiqued as racist and paternalistic.

Stories to share with children

  • ABC Kids – Playschool Hand in Hand—Join Rachael and Luke as they speak about racism; what it is, how it makes people feel and how we can all play a part in stopping it. Play School has always welcomed opportunities to discuss the importance of respect and kindness.
  • Young Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe. As European explorers and settlers moved across Australia in search of land to claim, they made records and kept diaries, and drew and painted what they saw. These eyewitness accounts tell us how Aboriginal people lived and asks you to consider these ‘inconvenient truths’—a different view of how Australia was before the British arrived in 1788.
  • ABC Kids Listen Little Yarns—Each episode of this podcast journeys to one of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations to learn a first word on Country.
  • Welcome to Country by Aunty Joy Murphy & illustrated by Lisa Kennedy. Welcome to the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri People. We are part of this land and the land is part of us. This is where we come from. Wominjeka Wurundjeri balluk yearmenn koondee bik. Welcome to Country.

Further Reading/Resources

Early Childhood Australia'

One thought on “Black Lives Matter in Australia, in early education and everywhere”

    Gordon Ross says:

    Great resource list. Thanks

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