ABORIGINAL EARLY YEARS IN TASMANIA: BEING AND BELONGING
5 October 2010
Welcome to Country: Lynne Spotswood and Janice Ross
Lynne and Janice gave Welcome to Country - first in language (palawa kani) and then in English.
This day exemplified the idea of shared knowledge - as a joint project of Dare to Lead, Lady Gowrie Tasmania, and Aboriginal Education (Tasmania). The day's aims:
Lynne Spotswood read a poem by Dianne Burgess about Cape Barren Island:
- Become aware of the important connection and impact of Tasmanian Aboriginal cultures and history for present day students, their families and communities
- To begin to explore the importance of Country, Family and Community and how this links to students sense of being and belonging
- To learn about current Tasmanian Aboriginal communities
- To become aware of the importance and impact of identity and cultural safety for students/children to fully engage with education
- To open a conversation about the critical nature of communication with Aboriginal children and their families
- To share existing practice with each other, with a view to building an Aboriginal Early Years network
The saddest part of my life is when I left my land.
It is a pretty place:
Just like paradise,
With long white beaches.
Then one day a big plane came and took the family away to the city.
It was fun in the big plane but not in the big city.
The bright light and the city ways:
The sin and the liquor separated the love and the closeness of a good family from paradise.
From that day to this day I ask myself:
'Oh why father, oh why did we leave a pretty place I call paradise?'
Ronnie Summers, Elder
Ronnie chatted with his daughter Tamera Summers and Dare to Lead's Jan Larcombe about growing up on Cape Barren Island.
"From when I was pretty young, we used to make all our own stuff. We made tin boats and we had a good imagination. We would all run around making our own stuff.
"Going to school was alright. I was a pretty small and skinny kid of about six years old when I started. I remember I had only been there a few weeks when the teacher asked me to do some lines of dots and dashes and little hooks, whatever, in my handwriting book. I did about half the lines then took them out to the teacher. He looked at the book, threw it on the floor, then picked me up by the front of my shirt and shook me. He was a big man, more than six feet tall. I suppose he expected more of me. But at that point I felt like my education was about over.
"I finished school in grade five at the age of 11 and I couldn't do the work at that level - although I didn't officially leave until I was 14. There was a lot of caning of students. I didn't get the education I really wanted. That would have affected my family. When you don't have an education it is very hard. I had a tough job to write my own name. I used to try to do crosswords but could only got to three or four words.
"At home we used to sail to the other side of the island, make camp, do some snaring for three or four weeks then return home. I used to ride a horse around and had fun. Birding was the main part of what we did. We enjoyed it so much as children, but there were so many boatloads of wood you had to take out. All our boats were sailboats, no motors. My grandfather and Dad would take a load down to the mutton bird island, we had to take the dogs and cats and fowls and all the family, young ones and old ones, and made a home away from home for maybe ten weeks.
"We used to love dances and sports. When I was young there were racehorses on the island. We would play sports against other islands. Music was important to me always."
Ronnie then performed two songs about his home country.
* Ronnie has written a book which comes with a CD enclosed. It has been distributed to all Tasmanian government schools. It is called 'Ronnie: Tasmanian Songman' by Ronnie Summers
Theresa Sainty, Aboriginal Cultural Programs Coordinator, Aboriginal Education (Tasmania) shared her knowledge of today's Aboriginal community in Tasmania.
I think I can say with some amount of confidence that there are a number of community people who see the Tasmanian Aboriginal community as one, with different family groups within that community. Other people talk about 'communities'. I can only talk about my own experience of living, growing up and working in my community.
There are three main family groups that make up our community. Dolly Dalrymple was born on Wybalenna, grew up with a non-Aboriginal family, and has settled on the north-west coast. We think of people from there as 'Dolly's mob'.
Fanny Cochrane-Smith was born at Wybalenna. She settled in the Channel area down south and many of her family members live down that way so we think of them as 'Fanny's mob'.
Then there is what we call the 'island families'. Members of the island families continue to live on the islands as well as on mainland Tasmania. There are a number of core families who make up that group.
As an additional part of our community we have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families who have come here from the mainland. Usually when you move you seek out Aboriginal people in your community.
There are also women who were taken to Kangaroo Island and I think I need to acknowledge that descendants of those women continue to live over there, and while they have not grown up here, they belong to this country. For more information, read the book Unearthed by Rebe Taylor.
We don't always agree on things, but no community does and no family does. We are often divided in our opinions but when there is a major issue such as protection of heritage we come together as a strong and vibrant community with a continuing, evolving culture. Talk to community people. Invite local community people into your classrooms and your schools and childcare centres.
I am very proud to be associated with people in my community who are educators. That does not necessarily mean they are in a classroom.
Schools always ask, 'How do we make contact with Aboriginal people?' I always tell them that the best starting point is families within the school. Talk to them!
Stephanie Armstrong, Indigenous Liaison Officer, Australian Council for Educational Research
Nationally, the focus on early childhood and Aboriginal children is only just beginning. I have worked in early childhood for almost 30 years and we are still trying to develop tools and understanding in this area.
Relationships and family are a key value of Aboriginal people. Relationships don't come until you are prepared to give something from yourself. Sometimes we want things from kids but we don't want to give them anything of ourselves in return. You can't make positive changes with Aboriginal children until you have a relationship with them.
Our children are always working in two worlds. As educators we need to learn about where our Aboriginal students come from, learn about their families and connect with the local community. Something I have written:
To share your knowledge and to accept that there are many ways to learn and that deeper understanding comes when Australian and first Australian people work openly and honestly together. One thought to consider.......When values and concepts of what's right and what's wrong clash we need to challenge what is best for our children...Dedicated to my mother
It is important that we provide cultural safety. Learning outcomes are linked to children having a strong sense of identity. Identity is not fixed. It is shaped by experiences. Relationships are the foundations for the construction of identity: 'who I am,' 'how I belong' and 'what is my influence?' When children feel safe, secure and supported they grow in confidence to explore and learn.
The research work by Dr Fiona Stanley shows that it is common for Aboriginal children who start school to have had numerous incidents of trauma in their lives. (*See full information at end of report) We have to be aware of this, and work with this.
We all have different backgrounds and ways of thinking but hopefully we are respectful of other backgrounds and ways of thinking. How safe are we making students feel when they come into our classrooms or centres? When students start at childcare or school, they don't take themselves along - they are taken there by their families, so they take those family connections with them.
Janice Ross, Aboriginal Early Years Liaison Officer
I would like to acknowledge our Elders and our community people. It has been an emotional roller-coaster for our people.
Auntie Lennah Newson rang me up one day and said 'come around, I've got something for you'. She clasped my hands together in her hands and said she had something special for me. I felt something really smooth and rounded. When I opened my hands there was a rock. It was so smooth and round. She talked to me about the stone, where it was collected, who she collected it with. I realised it was a topaz from my birth home. When you held it up to the light you could see a beautiful orange light running through it. When my daughter was born, the stone was there. When I had achievements such as when I received a diploma for my art, that stone went with me. When I talked with friends about special things, the stone was there. It sat next to my bed every day. After a time Auntie Lennah became unwell and I wanted to return that rock home with her. Just before she passed away I gave that rock to her, just for some comfort and for those connections.
When we talk about the connections and identity of each child it leads us to the idea of cultural safety. We need to think about:
All children have Spirits which need to be protected, nurtured and strengthened.
- Challenges faced at school
- How media affects our students
- Media/video showing family or relatives that may be deceased
When we do the Collegial School Snapshot process I always ask Aboriginal parents the three things they would like their school to do. The most common answers:
Critical factors for success
- Fly my flag so I know I am welcome.
- Know that I want the best for my children and talk to me in ways that I can be part of it.
- Recognise all the wonderful things that my child brings with him or her when I leave them in your care.
- Secure, respectful and reciprocal relationships
- High Expectations and Equity
Source: Belonging, Being, Becoming The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia
- Ongoing learning and reflective practice
- Identifying, acknowledging, valuing/respecting Cultures
- Strong family and community partnerships
- Effective home ?school' connections
Source: Source: Foundations for Success: Guidelines for an early learning program in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities"
- Curriculum & Pedagogy (A holistic approach)
Language, and the critical nature of understanding
Outcome 5: Children are effective communicators
Children's use of their home language underpins their sense of identity and their conceptual development. Children feel a sense of belonging when their language, interaction styles and ways of communicating are valued. They have the right to be continuing users of their home language as well as to develop competency in Standard Australian English. (EYLF : PAGE 38)
"If language doesn't change, it's dead," Stephanie Armstrong said. "Australia is a multicultural society. First Australians are linguistically and culturally diverse.
"With Aboriginal people, direct questions usually lead to a close-down, especially if there are a lot of questions in a row. The onus is not on the listener; the onus is on you as the speaker - so if you have nothing that is of interest to me I don't have to listen to you. The Aboriginal people I know use leading statements to seek information, not questions."
"Our people are a little further back from people who have languages intact," said Theresa Sainty. "We are retrieving and reviving language. In my experience it is more a question of Aboriginal English and Cape Barren English. Our island families have a particular way we talk to one another when we come together as a community. Our island families, the grandchildren, children, nieces and nephews of people who continue to live on the island, you can hear from them a different sort of way of communicating. However they would consider that they were talking 'proper' English."
"When Aboriginal students enter your schools, you should be aware that there may be things you need to explicitly teach," Ms Armstrong said. "We need to put in as many support structures as we can. Where I am working in inner-city Melbourne we are videoing students speaking to pick up how they are operating. As teachers we need to think about the words we use. In one school they sent out notes about a 'Literacy Intervention Program'. What do you think the word 'intervention' meant to those Aboriginal parents?"
"You need to be aware that certain consonant and vowel sounds are interchangeable," said Theresa Sainty. "This is one reason why the same words are spelled differently around Tasmania."
Culturally relevant resources - Theresa Sainty
People in our community have said there is a lack of Tasmanian Aboriginal-specific literacy resources. A project, Connecting Community, Country and Culture, worked on creating and publishing books for primary school children on local culture.
Some of the resources are gender-specific, some are mixed. They all show our kids doing our stuff with our people on our land, wherever possible. The community loves seeing our kids reading about their own culture.
There is also the Big Dog Connection DVD which was sent out to all schools, plus puzzles etc.
The Aboriginal Resource Library is now housed with Aboriginal Education in Derwent Park, Hobart, and can be accessed by mail-order. This is a free service.
'Overall, the research on 'culturally appropriate' suggests that teachers need to be reflective, they need to be able to reflect on their own cultural influences and culturally informed understandings before they can understand the culturally constituted behaviours of their students. Teachers' pedagogical practice must affirm each child's cultural identity.' (Mellor & Corrigan 2004, p.35)
Questions and answers
Q: Where do we source information regarding words and language used in Tasmania?
A: We are in the process of reviving language in Tasmania and have been for a number of years. That revived language, palawa kani, the community has carriage of language acquisition and there are certain protocols around language use in both our community and the wider community. At the moment it cannot be taught in our schools apart from the school on Cape Barren Island. There are words lists of Tasmanian Aboriginal language, showing place names and various other words, but they are problematic. There is no easy answer to this question in Tasmania at the moment. (Theresa Sainty)
Q: Do you see (palawa kini) becoming more widely accessible in the future?
A: The short answer is possibly or probably, but it will be the community that decides that. It is a long process and people in our community are at different stages of language revival. There are people who are resistant to it because they say it is made up and not the same as it was before. I think our community needs to be reacquainted with language and what it means before we share that more widely. Our children who go to Aboriginal childcare centres all have access to language. Most of them can count and sing in language and know some naming words, and that can be a great way to lift up little people. (TS)
Q: How do you seek information using statements rather than questions?
A: Often we set questions without thinking about what we want from the question. Whatever the information is, you need to put yourself into the space by saying'this is what I'm doing'. You can get more information with a direct statement, but you have to get skilled at it. You have to think about: what do I want, and where do I have to start? If you try that you might find it's a struggle - but for our kids, direct questioning can be just as much of a struggle. (Stephanie Armstrong)
Q: How do you get HR providers to be culturally competent?
A: What we have been through this morning is a starting place, and we will build on the exposure to culture that you have had this morning to lead on to other opportunities.
As leaders and responsible community members, our responsibility is to take valuable people from where they are to where they want to be. You can't make someone culturally competent, but you can help them grow their understanding. (Jan Larcombe)
Over the years we have run a number of different professional learning opportunities for teachers. The best that we have encountered is taking a group of people, whoever they may be, to some of our places. Let them feel the ground under their feet, walk in the steps of our ancestors as we do and share whatever might be appropriate. After that you return to a training room for more sharing. A whole new dimension opens up when you come out on country with our people. (TS)
Q: How do you run culturally appropriate and respectful activities?
A: Working in with the AEYLOs, talking with us about what you want to do within your learning environment. We can provide the right resources and tools for you to feel comfortable and competent in delivering it. (Janice Ross)
Q: Are AEYLOs available to work in the Catholic system?
A: No. There are Aboriginal Support Teachers available for the Catholic system, and I urge you to talk to Christine Butterworth in the Catholic Education Office. (JL)
Closing remarks - Jan Larcombe
The fact that you're here means you are ready to step into this space and ready to learn. We have so many people here who have shared their knowledge, skill and experience, all as part of helping to work towards improving things for our Aboriginal children. This is a great beginning.
* Reference for Steff Armstrong's information regarding incidents of trauma in the life of young Aboriginal students: Western Australian Aboriginal Child Health Survey: The Social and Emotional Wellbeing of Aboriginal Children and Young People
Summary Booklet, Page 11
Factors associated with emotional and behavioural difficulties
11 The Social and Emotional Wellbeing of Aboriginal Children and Young People
A variety of social circumstances, health conditions and lifestyles experienced by individual children, their carers and families may be associated with emotional or behavioural difficulties in Aboriginal children.
There are clear associations between family and household factors and risk of clinically significant emotional or behavioural difficulties experienced by Aboriginal children and young people.
The factor most strongly associated with high risk of clinically significant emotional or behavioural difficulties in children was the number of major life stress events (e.g. illness, family break-up, arrests or financial difficulties) experienced by the family in the 12 months prior to the survey.
Of children aged 4 to 11 years, 42% were at high risk of clinically significant emotional of behavioural difficulties in families that had experienced 7 or more life stress events compared with 25% of children in families experiencing 3 to 6 life stress events and 15% in families experiencing 0 to 2 life stress events. Similarly for children aged 12 to 17 years, 34% were at high risk of clinically significant emotional of behavioural difficulties in families that had experienced 7 or more life stress events compared with 19% of children in families experiencing 3 to 6 life stress events and 12% in families experiencing 0 to 2 life stress events.
Life stress events
Just over one in five children (22%) were living in families where 7 or more major life stress events had occurred over the preceding 12 months. These children were five and a half times more likely to be at high risk of clinically significant emotional or behavioural difficulties than children in families where 2 or less life stress events had occurred.
(More information: http://www.ichr.uwa.edu.au/files/user17/Volume2_SummaryBooklet.pdf)