I recently completed the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies’ (AIATSIS) Core cultural awareness training.
The course has been provided to Actuaries Institute Members to support the Institute’s Year one goal of its Indigenous Engagement Plan – Cultural Awareness and Self-Reflection.
Core has been developed by AIATSIS in partnership with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Department of Social Services. It builds on years of research and involvement in cultural competence initiatives and is informed by research collaboration with the University of Sydney’s National Centre for Cultural Competency.
While many aspects of the course are aimed at the workplace, and potential interaction with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, this does not detract from its place as an excellent general introductory course to increase your awareness of the vast history and cultural heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
As an educated and (hopefully) empathetic person, I thought I had some knowledge of the issues impacting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. However, this course has made me realise that my knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples was very limited, very narrow and often misguided.
As set out on the AIATSIS website: “Why should I do it?”
Core provides a detailed exploration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and issues, as a means of assisting you to enhance your cultural understanding; gain a deeper sense of self-awareness and critical reflection; and enhance your personal and professional capacity to engage respectfully and effectively in an intercultural context.
The program is designed to encourage people to understand their own cultural perspectives as the basis for effective interactions with people of (other) diverse backgrounds.
There are 10 interactive modules in the course, with each one taking about one hour or so. In addition, there are a significant number and range of additional resources provided at the end of each module for further learning (reading, websites, etc.). I didn’t pursue these at the time, but plan to look at many of these in the future.
For me, the key learnings from the course have been:
- The complex nature of the culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
- The central importance of ‘Country’, which is so much more than the land, waterways and seas to which they are connected.
- How events and policies in the past have shaped the identities and experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.
- The complex world of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs.
- An insight into the unique attributes of the thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community organisations, collectively known as the ‘community-controlled’ sector.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights, particularly those relating to land and native title and how Australian laws and policies have evolved to recognise and protect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ traditional connection to Country.
- ‘Self-determination’; what it means to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; and the ways in which it is expressed, from personal every-days acts to formal agreements with governments.
- The historical and contemporary contributions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to Australian society with an insight into how these contributions have played (and continue to play) a valuable role in shaping our national identity.
However, I think one of the key things for me, was the contribution that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have made, and are making, to Australia and the resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
This is best encapsulated by Dr Kerry Arabena – a Meriam woman and Professor of Indigenous Health at the University of Melbourne – speaking in the Melbourne Conversations discussion Constitutional Recognition of Australia’s first peoples: Sell out or steppingstone?
We are moving mountains people. Don’t get me wrong, there are still people who are disadvantaged, living in poverty. That’s true… but there are many more people who are making changes living lives like they think they need to.
Yes, there is frustration but there is also clear concise thinking and strategy about how to change and transform those experiences.
And I don’t believe that people who have been victimised are necessarily victims … I don’t follow that one through. I know that people and myself have been incredibly frustrated sometimes, we have been given the raw end of a very rough stick.
But at the end of the day, we are not fragile people. We are the most resilient people in any other continent on this planet, we have the most horrific story of colonisation and we have survived it. And not we are doing more than surviving it, we are making contributions to this nation. We have had eight Australians of the Year and you don’t do that if you are completely disenfranchised.
What I get frustrated about the most, what frustrates me the most, is being described in the deficit. There is very little recognition of who we are and what we have achieved, how far we … that we have become and who we are and what out mark and measure is in the world.
Source: City of Melbourne, 2013.
This is a great initiative by the Institute, and I would encourage all Members of the Institute to do this course. It will increase your awareness of the vast history and cultural heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and hopefully, it is just the beginning of a new journey of learning.
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