2021 Reconciliation Connect opened with an Acknowledgement to Country video recorded by Early Childhood Australia (ECA) staff members Michelle, Juanita and Emma, who paid respect with personal acknowledgements to the Countries they were joining us from.
This was followed by a powerful keynote address from Karen Mundine (CEO, Reconciliation Australia) titled State of reconciliation in Australia: Moving from ‘safe’ to ‘brave’. She called delegates to action, to raise the bar of expectation, saying: ‘Reconciliation cannot just be about raising awareness and increasing knowledge. Australians of goodwill must now be motivated to braver action. For it to be meaningful and effective, reconciliation must involve truth-telling and actively address issues of inequality, systemic racism and instances where the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are ignored, denied or reduced.’
Next, Bruce Pascoe, author of Young Dark Emu—A Truer History, delivered a thought-provoking presentation about helping our children understand the true meaning of Country, to ensure that they have a positive understanding of Aboriginal people. He reiterated the call to educators to be brave and fear no mistake; to listen to the logic of children and engage in two-way learning with them. ‘We shouldn’t insult kids, scare kids or make them feel guilty about Aboriginal history,’ he said. ‘We should get them excited about that history. And take them into a land of hope.’ He also reminded educators that stories of Country are a thrilling way to open discussions with children about Aboriginal history.
After a quick discussion session, everyone returned for the conversation with the 2021 Senior Australian of the Year, Dr Miriam-Rose Ungunmerr Baumann AM. She expressed how important it is for young children to belong and feel connected to their grassroots. Miriam-Rose also shared that the practice of dadirri (deep listening) could not be taught, but only learned when you slow down, ‘listen on the outside and listen on the inside’ and are open and connected to your Country and community. She reminded delegates that ‘I don’t own the land, I belong to it … and so do you’.
This was followed by a presentation by William Tilmouth and Jane Vadiveloo from Children’s Ground. William reflected on how he is still seeking the sense of belonging Miriam-Rose referred to, as it was denied him by the policies of assimilation that took him away from his family, culture and language. He stated that reconciliation has not come far enough and urged delegates to seek system change, for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to have their own voice and agency.
Jane continued the presentation, articulating that knowledge systems must be intergenerational—‘the land is always alive; we know Elders never retire, they become more and more important’. She emphasised that the impacts of identity, culture and strength last a lifetime and the cultural protection of children within early childhood is critical to their future. She called for a ‘fundamental system change to recognise and support First Nations systems of early childhood education in their own right, with their own integrity, led by the people of the lands upon which it is being held’. William and Jane also played a video about the work of Children’s Ground, which reinforced their point that the system needs to be changed to ensure children learn on Country in order to grow their identity and knowledge; that ‘learning must come from the land’.
After lunch, delegates could choose to attend one of three concurrent sessions. Zoe Cassim (Narragunnawali) discussed how to start a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) with new Reconciliation Connect attendees, while Stephanie Woerde (Narragunnawali) led a discussion on how delegates could take their reconciliation journey further—please click here to visit the Narragunnawali website for more information.
The third concurrent presentation, led by Joanne Goodwin (Co-Chair of ECA’s Reconciliation Advisory Group) and artist Travis De Vries, looked at ethical procurement. Travis explained the process of researching businesses and organisations to ensure procurement processes are ethical, and highlighted potential pitfalls after procurement.
Samantha Page (CEO, ECA) delivered a short presentation on ECA’s reconciliation journey as well as her own. She said we should never underestimate our own actions; individuals making small changes in their own settings can create a ripple effect and influence the wider community to follow and influence change.
Author Thomas Mayor delivered the last keynote presentation of the day on the Uluru Statement from the Heart. He expressed the importance of having a First Nations Voice to Parliament protected by the Constitution, and invited delegates to participate in the process of having this legislated.
The day ended on a musical note when author and performer Lucas Proudfoot introduced delegates to Ned, Sis and Aunty May during his performance of Blowing in the Breeze—a story about a young Indigenous boy and a non-indigenous girl who both grow up on Country, and the adventures they share.
Throughout the day, the event was facilitated by Joanne Goodwin and Catharine Hydon (Hydon Consulting), who shared their own reflections on reconciliation and their learnings from the speakers.
We’d like to thank all of our speakers for sharing their multiple perspectives, expertise and experience to help us move a step further in our reconciliation journey.