Guardian – Rebecca Hunt
‘True reconciliation requires a long-term commitment from non-Indigenous Australians to look past their western lens and take the time to reflect on unconscious bias’ Photograph: Cisco Fisher, VACCHO
It’s not enough to place Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags in the entry of your organisation
Recently, I was asked how I imagine a reconciled Australia. Great question. Reconciliation is an attractive concept depicting a bright future, but what does it actually look like? Upon reflection I realised it would involve a society where I didn’t have to justify my Aboriginality or feel ashamed of my fair skin which apparently goes against the ingrained, stereotyped perception of what an Aboriginal person should look like. I envision a society flooded with positive representation of my people in the media and on social media, where our Aboriginality does not automatically make us the target of racism and discrimination. Where my culture, the oldest living culture in the world, is respected and not demeaned and belittled as a costume or face-paint worn at Invasion Day celebrations. A society where cultural safety is embraced and systematically embedded instead of vilified and taken out of context so much that it ends up extending the oppression of a marginalised minority. Where consideration goes into intersectionality and the complex challenges for people like myself, who walk two worlds in the queer and Indigenous communities.
On Sunday begins National Reconciliation Week. This period was born from the reconciliation movement, which began officially in 1992. 26 years later, what has changed? Our voices continue to be stifled, our culture disrespected, our identity questioned, our children stolen and our lands desecrated.
True reconciliation requires a long-term commitment from non-Indigenous Australians to look past their western lens and take the time to reflect on unconscious bias and listen to the truth of our history and experiences. For many non-Indigenous Australians, it can be difficult to identify how to take the first step.
The first step is the easiest: start by actively listening to us. When you seek to learn about our history, our culture and our ways, listen to the whole story. Prepare to learn of our innate trauma and our resilience. To truly listen, practice humility. Understand that we deal with complex layers of trauma and intergenerational trauma through our own experiences and the experiences of our community as our culture is based on the concept of “we” and not “I”.
If you engage us to deliver cultural safety training, consider the impact of your actions from haggling the price or dictating what should be in the package. Before we even begin to share our history, culture and our ways, your actions already seek to censor us. Cultural competency is not self-dictated, it is a journey that will shift in alignment with our ever-adapting culture. We know culture is not stagnant. Take the time to type out Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, instead of resorting to offensive acronyms. Always capitalise Indigenous and Aboriginal. Learn the correct way to acknowledge country and learn the name of the traditional owners of the unceded lands on which you live and work. Support treaty, rebuke racism in all its overt and covert forms. Adopting each of these demonstrates a genuine respect that reveals the validity of your intent. It shows us you’re trustworthy and a potential ally. It smashes tokenism.
Tokenistic gestures are commonplace in the daily lives and historical experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Our experiences have taught us to sniff out a gammon (Google it) facade from people who would only interact to enhance their own image, or potentially harm us.
Placing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags in the front entry of your organisation, school, hospital or workplace is quickly revealed as a lacklustre, tokenistic gesture the second that respect is not reflected in the attitudes and behaviours of staff and organisational policies and practices. For too long our communities have endured the ignorance of non-Indigenous people who continue to ask for quantifiable evidence of our identity or fail to simply ask the important question (“are you Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander?”) that would determine our Indigenous identity and subsequently inform the correct supports to facilitate our best outcomes.
I challenge all non-Indigenous people to look at what they are doing to contribute to creating culturally safe spaces that celebrate and endorse self-determination for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Conduct further research, educate yourself, and find out what you can do to recognise and then adjust your biases.
If every non-Indigenous Australian could attempt that, it would be a great place to start towards proving that reconciliation is more than just an empty concept.