In modern society Christmas is celebrated in many different ways. For some it's a religious holiday to celebrate the birth of Christ, for others it's a holiday to celebrate with gifts. Whether for religious or cultural reasons, the common thread for all that celebrate Christmas across the globe is the coming together to spend time and celebrate with family and friends.
In traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture Christmas was not celebrated but coming together and celebrating as a mob was, and continues to be, an important aspect of culture. While held for varied reasons, these events helped in defining identity and a sense of connectedness to kinship and culture, strengthening the mob through feelings of spiritual and cultural belonging.
Traditional reason for coming together for ceremonies and gatherings included:
Welcome to Country: In traditional times an Aboriginal person would not travel between groups without permission. If permission was granted the mob accepting travellers would formally welcome their visitors with a welcome ceremony. This welcome would tell the spirits of the land that the traveller came in peace and asked them to protect the traveller while on the traditional lands.
Smoking Ceremony: Smoking ceremonies are traditionally a cleansing ceremony. Various native plants are collected and burned to produce smoke which is believed to have cleansing properties and the ability to ward off unwanted and bad spirits.
Corroborees: Corroborees are ceremonial meetings for mobs to interact with the Dreaming through singing, dancing, costume, and artistic expression.
Sorry Business: Sorry business refers to protocols around the death of an Aboriginal person. There are very intricate Dreaming ceremonies to help a spirit leave the earth after death. Traditionally the ceremonies around death varied between clans. How the body was prepared and farewelled was significant to ensuring the spirit made safe passage back to the Dreaming.
Trade: Traditionally trading was a time for sharing ideas, technology and culture, it was a time to catch up with other mobs for both business and leisure.
Download our free "Ceremonies and Gatherings" find-a-word PDF for your class to see what other ways Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people traditionally came together in celebration.
You can also explore this topic in more depth with the following lessons found on Wingaru Kids:
People often think that cultural awareness training is only for large organisations but the reality is organisations of any size can benefit from cultural awareness. This year our Butabuta facilitators have delivered our cultural awareness program to organisations with as few as 10 staff and across all sectors – private, public and not for profit. Each of these organisations had a different reason for organising training but each one was seeking to increase the knowledge of staff about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, our history and how we can all move forward and start addressing the outcome gaps our mob experience.
Over the last week I have been contacted by a couple of small businesses who are considering cultural awareness training but are unsure if they will benefit from it so I thought I would share, with their permission, about two of the small organisations that we provided training for this year - Kids Steps Speech Pathology and Tempe OOSH.
Kids Steps Speech Pathology
Kids Steps Speech Pathology is a private practice located on beautiful Gumbaynggirr Country in Coffs Harbour with services also offered at Grafton, Yamba, Macksville and into New England. The team offer a range of services to support kids who need support with speech and language disorders. The incidence of speech and language disorders is higher in Aboriginal populations and the Kids Steps Team, who work with a number of Aboriginal families, want to make sure that they can appropriately engage and support Aboriginal families in therapy to support our jarjums. The NDIS means more families can access the therapies they need and as an NDIS provider, the Kids Steps Team is well placed to support these families and it is encouraging to see non-Aboriginal businesses starting to recognise the need to modify practice in order to be culturally safe for our mob.
The team lead by Nathenya Fall, refer to their clients as friends. As a mum with a kid who has done his fair share of speech therapy, I love this approach. I know first-hand how important building a positive relationship between a child and their “speechie” is, so when Nathenya told me they were looking for opportunities to support their koori friends as best they could, I felt a rush of gratitude and excitement. The support we give kids in early years plays a huge role in shaping future outcomes for them. Having a private service that understands the importance of a culturally inclusive environment for Aboriginal people is amazing and the fact that they are willing to ask for help, acknowledging that Aboriginal people are best placed to provide advice on solutions to support our communities, is worth shouting about.
All of our cultural awareness sessions have been tailored to meet the needs of the participants and our facilitators were able to support the Kids Steps Team with a number of strategies they could introduce into their offerings that would help Aboriginal families to feel comfortable at the service. The Kids Steps Team were very keen to know how they could be more involved in the Aboriginal community so we spoke about opportunities to participate in events, community meetings and inter-agency events to connect with community outside of the Kids Steps offices. This conversation provided the Team with both the knowledge about where to connect with community as well as the confidence to join these events knowing that they were welcome. The respectful approach that Kids Steps has to working with our kids is amazing and the local community are blessed to have such a great service available. If only all small businesses were so welcoming of our mob!
Another session that really stands out for me this year is our visit to the Tempe OOSH. The team, led by Helen Pentecost, is very highly regarded by the community they service. Kids love attending and we all know how important it is knowing that our kids are safe and happy when we can’t be with them. We hadn’t had an OOSH contact us about training before and Helen’s approach is very refreshing and I hope an approach that is adopted by many OOSH providers.
Helen told me that she felt ‘Training staff in cultural competency to understand the unique history of Australia’s First Nations people provides not only enormous benefit in terms of helping them offer sensitive and appropriate care for children from Aboriginal, Torres Strait and other diverse backgrounds, but it helps everyone at our centre by deepening our connection to and understanding of the custodians of our land.’ She said ‘I believe the recognition of the vast and rich cultural heritage of Aboriginal people is a vital underpinning of all education in Australians, and helps us create safe and appropriate learning spaces for all children, of any background. For us, there was no question that this training was vital to our way of working, and how we see ourselves as educators’.
We talk a lot about creating culturally inclusive environments in schools so to have an OOSH embrace this and take steps to ensure their service is inclusive is all kinds of exciting. An approach which recognises that understanding Aboriginal people and our role as custodians of the land is important for all students and staff at the centre, for me really highlights Helen’s approach as best practice and I would love to see other OOSH providers work towards adopting this approach.
The benefits of cultural awareness training for workplaces are often spoken about. We talk about the role that cultural awareness training has in improving workplace culture; in improving both internal and external workplace communications; and in better servicing Aboriginal clients.
But we don’t often talk about the effects that extend beyond the workplace.
Reading social media these days is hard. Everyone has an opinion about everything, and people seem much more comfortable expressing racism from the safety of the impersonal internet. Just in the last few days, I've read comments online saying a young man in a remote Northern Territory community deserved to be shot to death by police, and how it was ‘totally wrong’ to close the Uluru climb because ‘it never hurt the rock’ and ‘the Aboriginals are lying about cultural significance’. Today, I read a post that could have been from 100 years ago: a man advertised that he and his wife ‘would like to help fire victims and have a spare room if you need it … no blacks or immigrants’. This is all on top of the everyday deluge of comments rife with racial hate and myths about Aboriginal people that are perpetuated by print and social media.
Fear of the unknown and a lack of education are the primary reason these types of posts are so prevalent. Often, keyboard warriors make these alarming statements because they've never had an opportunity to learn about Aboriginal culture—they know no alternative to the myths and ignorance they enthusiastically spout. I've been delivering Aboriginal cultural awareness training for many, many years and I've found that most people become much more accepting of Aboriginal people and culture and open to Reconciliation, when they learn the story of the Aboriginal peoples, and how we got to where we are today.
Many participants have never heard about Australia’s history with Aboriginal people from an Aboriginal perspective. Cultural awareness training is the first time they've heard the stories of people from the Stolen Generation, or of families forced to live on missions, with no control over any aspect of their lives. ‘Why weren’t we taught this in school?’ is a common response when we talk about past government policies, about the denial of Aboriginal people’s rights to practice culture and the way they were treated by non-Aboriginal people—about how in the past racism was so systematic, and how in many ways it continues to be.
Cultural awareness training in the workplace can support people to take a stand against the culturally insensitive—or downright racist—posts that are put out into the world every day. It arms people with the knowledge to see through misinformation, so that they don't help spread the myths that fuel hate against our First Nations. By giving people knowledge, training gives people the confidence to challenge the racist rhetoric we all seem to have become so complacent about.
Often employers don’t think they'll benefit from cultural awareness training for their staff because they don’t service Aboriginal people or have any Aboriginal staff. But consider the wider impact: training your staff not only increases their capacity, which strengthens your business, but also, in the case of cultural awareness training, can help protect your reputation. Often, misguided racist comments are made by employees on their workplace social media profile, and I watch as offended readers tag the employers asking them to take action, or demand others boycott them. It's something to consider: if making a positive social contribution is not reason enough to consider cultural awareness training for your workplace, then the potential PR implications if you don't might be.
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