Practice Tips

 

1. Welcome to country

1. Welcome to country

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a unique position in the history and culture of Australia. They are the original owners of the land and it is important that this special position is recognised and incorporated in official events such as festivals and community events, program launches and other major social and community events.

The Welcome to Country ceremony recognises the original owners of the land and welcomes others to the place.

A “Welcome to country” ceremony is when the Aboriginal Custodians of the land/sea welcomes the visitors/invited guests to their Country. An Aboriginal representative/s conducts the ceremony. (This would normally be the first item on the agenda.)

It is not usually appropriate for you to contact an Aboriginal person directly; you need to contact the Local Aboriginal Land Council or Aboriginal Organisation so that you can follow the correct procedures to carry out a “Welcome to Country”. This will vary according to areas.
The appropriate organisation will allocate a representative(s).

It is important to discuss the arrangements with the representative(s) prior to the ceremony.

In some areas a fee is paid or a gift is presented to the representative(s)

The Welcome to Country ceremony is only undertaken by Elders, locally recognised Aboriginal community spokespersons or locally recognised cultural service providers.

There is no exact wording for Welcome to Country. The content of the ceremony should be negotiated between your organisation and the person undertaking the ceremony with reference to the nature of the event and community practices.

Generally, people giving a Welcome to Country offer participants local Aboriginal history and cultural information and will go on to welcome the delegates to the country.

The traditional owners/custodians are to be approached to undertake the Welcome to Country ceremony. This is dependent upon the location of the event and the practices of the local Aboriginal community. It is important to ensure that negotiations with the local Aboriginal community have occurred and that appropriate Aboriginal Elders are invited to undertake the ceremony.

Local Aboriginal Land Councils and Indigenous Coordination Centres are a key contact for Elders, who can undertake a Welcome to Country. The Department of Aboriginal Affairs may also be contacted for advice on the appropriate persons to approach.

If a Welcome to Country ceremony cannot be undertaken then an Acknowledgement of Country can be conducted.

Further reading

NSW Health has a Welcome to Country Protocols Policy (14 pages) may be useful for community organisations. NSW Health Welcome to Country Protocols Policy (PDF)

 

 

 

2. Acknowledgement of country

2. Acknowledgement of country

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a unique position in the history and culture of Australia. They are the original owners of the land and it is important that this special position is recognised and incorporated in official events such as festivals and community events, program launches and other major social and community events.

The Welcome to Country ceremony recognises the original owners of the land and welcomes others to the place. It is undertaken by a traditional owner of the land.

An Acknowledgement of Country is a way, that an Aboriginal person who is not a traditional owner or custodian of the land where the event is being held or for non- Aboriginal people, to respect Aboriginal heritage.

An Acknowledgment of Country is only to be undertaken when no traditional owner or custodian is available to do so and all avenues to locate one within the community have been undertaken.

A Chair, Speaker, Master of Ceremonies or other can begin the meeting by acknowledging that the meeting is taking place in the country of the traditional owners. There are some areas where debate is ongoing as to who are the traditional owners of certain land areas. In these instances those who acknowledge the county can acknowledge all the traditional owners of this land without naming those people.

If it is clear who are the ‘traditional owners of land’ it is appropriate to say so. Examples of acknowledgment of country are:

Wording for an Aboriginal person who is not a traditional owner of the land where the
event is being held:

“I am (name) an Aboriginal person from (tribe/clan) and I acknowledge the
traditional owners of the land (insert name if known) we are meeting on and remind
people that we are on Aboriginal land. I also acknowledge our Elders and in
particular those attending today’s event

Wording for a non-Aboriginal person:
“I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land (insert name if
known) we are meeting on and remind people that we are on Aboriginal land. I also
acknowledge the Elders and in particular those attending today’s event“

Further reading

NSW Health has a Welcome to Country Protocols Policy (14 pages) which includes protocols for Acknowledgement of Country and which may be useful for community organisations. NSW Health Welcome to Country Protocols Policy (PDF)


3. Know the Elders

3. Know the Elders

Elders are respected members of the Aboriginal community whom their community rely upon to give advice and pass on knowledge. The traditional meaning of an Aboriginal Elder is someone who has gained recognition within their community as a custodian of knowledge and lore and who has permission to disclose cultural knowledge and beliefs

In some Aboriginal communities there may be individuals who are Recognized Elders. These are people who are respected by the Aboriginal community as Elders but have not necessarily undergone traditional initiation ceremonies.

When working with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, Service providers need to get to know the Elders and other key Indigenous contacts in Government and non-Government departments. It is important to take time in establishing credibility within the Aboriginal community by building trust and respect and demonstrating that you are there to get to know and assist their community. Each community is different with its own protocols and these should be respected. You can get to know your Aboriginal community by attending and supporting Indigenous events such as NAIDOC Week celebrations, Reconciliation Week activities and introducing your Service to the local Aboriginal Land Council.

 

 

4. Kinship and its implications

4. Kinship and its implications

Kinship is an integral part of Aboriginal culture and may impact on the way Indigenous peoples utilize services. The concept of family is very different for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It often includes a much wider extended family, sometimes placed across several households. There is a clear focus on mutual obligations and sharing within the extended family. This can mean that the services and resources you provide to an Aboriginal client may be redistributed across other households. The care and financial support of a child may also be shared by the extended family, with different members taking on different roles. It is important to understand the concept of kinship and offer a service that addresses the family obligations that many Indigenous clients experience.

 

5. The Law and the Lore

5. The Law and the Lore

The term ‘law’ is a British concept that was first introduced to the Aboriginal peoples
during the colonization period, whereby they were expected to abide by this new
justice system.

The term ‘lore’ refers to the customs and stories the Aboriginal peoples learned from
the Dreamtime. Aboriginal lore was passed on through the generations through songs,
stories and dance and it governed all aspects of traditional life.

It is common to see the terms ‘law’ and ‘lore’ being used interchangeably. As a worker it is useful to remember that there is a distinction, although law is more commonly used. For the purpose of this website we will use the term ‘lore’.

Service providers need to develop an understanding that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples held a well- developed system of law long before the first white people arrived in Australia. Known as ‘Traditional Lore’, it is still in place today, and differs significantly from the British based Australian legal system.

Traditional lore is connected to ‘The Dreaming’ and provides rules on how to interact with the land, kinship and community. Aboriginal children learned the law from childhood, by observing customs, ceremonies and song cycles.

Many Aboriginal people live under two legal systems, the British-based Australian legal system and a ‘Traditional’ lore system, which may impact on different aspects of their lives.

There are Aboriginal communities in remote parts of Australia where the traditional culture is the dominant way of life. Unfortunately ‘Traditional’ Aboriginal lore practices may not work properly for these communities because they largely conflict with the Australian legal system. For example the Australian legal system punishes the offender by imprisonment and isolation from their community. In Traditional lore, matters are often discussed between the offenders’ family and victim to decide the severity of the punishment and who will carry it out. The process is swift and the community can return to normal.

There has recently been a lot of media attention regarding the debate of Aboriginal Traditional lore versus the Australian legal system. As a Human Service provider you may be confronted with wider community views on this subject. It is important to recognize that Traditional lore is an integral part of Aboriginal culture. This will enable you to question the misconceptions you may confront within your community.

It will also help you to develop a better understanding of some of the difficulties that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience when their cultural practices are not preserved.

 

 

6. The Land and its implications

6. The Land and its implications

1. Service providers need to develop an understanding of the spiritual relationship that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have to the land as a source of their identity. Aboriginal concepts and systems of land tenure differ significantly from a Western perception and this may impact on an Indigenous family’s living situation when accessing non Aboriginal Services. Service providers need to know who the local community(ies) is/are and what area their land covered. In the Upper Hunter this is the Wanaruah and Kamilaroi peoples. Your Local Aboriginal Lands Council will be able to provide you with this information.

2. Aboriginal beliefs are based on creation stories of ‘The Dreaming’. These stories describe the way Ancestors left their mark on the land. Particular stories are linked to particular landscapes and different land-holding groups are custodians of different stories. It is important to understand that ‘sacred sites’ are an essential part of Aboriginal people’s beliefs. Your Local Aboriginal Lands Council will be able to provide you with this information. The NSW National Parks and Wildlife website provides useful information on Aboriginal people, their culture and significant areas.

3. When working with your Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community a standard of respect and acknowledgement is essential. By demonstrating your respect to the Indigenous community you will be able to establish trusting relationships and enable communications to take place effectively.
In order to establish a working relationship you need to determine who are the Traditional Owners or the Recognised Elders of your community. The Traditional Owners are the original people of the area in which you live. They are the clan or groups of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander peoples who have a traditional connection to the land and / or waters relating to that area. Traditional Owners differ throughout Australia with diversity of languages, cultural practices and spiritual beliefs. Be mindful that due to colonisation Traditional Owners may not exist in your community and it may be more appropriate to ask the Local Aboriginal groups if there are Recognised Elders.These are people who are respected by the Aboriginal community as Elders but have not necessarily undergone traditional initiation ceremonies.
Your Local Aboriginal Lands Council will be able to provide you with the information you need to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of your area during major events and ceremonies. This practice expresses respect for the Aboriginal culture and history and should be done in accordance with local tradition. It should be done as the first duty of any meeting, event opening or speech.

  • Traditional Welcome or Welcome to Country – This is a traditional welcome speech that is usually done by an Elder or senior representative of your local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community. It welcomes people to visit and meet on the traditional area.
  • Acknowledgement of Country – This is a welcome speech that is made in acknowledgement of the local Indigenous people of your area. It is done when an Elder or appropriate member of the Aboriginal community is not available to give a Traditional Welcome or during less formal gatherings. An example is provided;

    “I would like to respectfully acknowledge the Local Aboriginal people who are the Traditional Owners and custodians of the land on which this meeting takes place.”

Whenever you invite an Aboriginal person to provide a cultural service such as a ‘Welcome to Country’ or an artistic performance they are using their intellectual property. As such it is important to acknowledge these services with appropriate remuneration. The NSW Department of Aboriginal Affairs provides a fee for service schedule.

4. European settlement has resulted in considerable changes to the Aboriginal culture and land-holding patterns over the past 200 years. It has resulted in a conflict between two systems of law and culture. The concept of ‘terra nullius’ lead to the dispossession of land for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and with this, a loss of economic base including natural and cultural resources. It is important to recognise that this period of Australian history continues to impact on Indigenous peoples today. Clients accessing your Service may have lost the connection to their traditional land and culture and have no where to belong. This can create social and financial disadvantage for the family. It is important to recognise the effects of this loss of connectedness and offer support and referral where appropriate.
‘Link-Up’ is an Aboriginal organisation that works with Aboriginal adults who were separated from their families and homes when they were children. They provide counselling and support to connect with one’s family, home and culture.

5. As a Worker you may be confronted with wider community views regarding Native Title and the land rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples that are not accurate. The Mabo decision of 1992 and the Wik decision of 1996 have lead to some misconceptions about the ownership of land by Indigenous peoples. It is important to have a general understanding of Native Title and land rights in order to address these myths. It will also help you to develop a better understanding of some of the difficulties that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples experience in accessing and trusting non-Aboriginal Services.

6. The limitations of the Native Title Act 1993 indicate that any Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander group seeking a native title claim must demonstrate a continuous traditional connection to their land. If the people have left their land either voluntarily or forcibly and lost their connection as defined by their laws and customs, then the title is lost. This will be the case for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders that access your Service. This may have implications for the Indigenous community you are working with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

7. Your Centre - culturally appropriate

7. Your Centre - culturally appropriate

Look at your Centre from an Aboriginal perspective and ask yourself the following questions:

  • How are Aboriginal people reflected in your Centre’s vision, aims and objectives?
  • Are your Centre’s policies appropriate to Aboriginal people’s interest?
  • Have you got a policy on reconciliation or anti-racism visible?What is there to show that the Centre values and welcomes Aboriginal people eg:Aboriginal flag, artwork, and posters?
  • What information is available on Aboriginal services?
  • Do you have an informal non-threatening area where you can sit and talk?

Talk to local Aboriginal organisations about days of significance to them. Ask how you can support them by having these days recognised and acknowledged.

Ensure the Aboriginal flag is visible at your centre especially during NAIDOC and other special occasions.

Always acknowledge Aboriginal people as the traditional owners of the land and acknowledge the presence of Elders if appropriate.

Ensure you have an understanding of the history of colonisation and its effect on Aboriginal people.

If you need assistance developing policies and procedures contact Darkinjung Local Aboriginal Land Council, other Aboriginal organisations or your Service Peak Body.

The above tips are based on tips provided in:
Walking Together A toolkit for working with Aboriginal Communities On the Central Coast of NSW

 

 

8. Working with Aboriginal workers

8. Working with Aboriginal workers

Aboriginal Workers are able to provide a service to a diverse range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait people.

Because of our own experiences we are able to relate to our people as we continue to fight in the struggle.

As our clients we are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders, some of mixed cultures, some raised with our own people on our traditional land, some lived on missions, some from the 'stolen generation' and some have grown up and have been displaced in urban environments. But we are family.

Therapists, counselors, health care workers, educators, other professionals and workers who work closely with A TSI people are especially vulnerable to the effects of stress. Some work environments require us to do more in less time and with limited culturally appropriate resources.

In doing this work we sometimes struggle with our own issues and our own healing. At times it becomes over-whelming.

For this reasons debriefing is important and regular counseling is a must.

 


9. Language and communication

7. Language and communication

Some tips are:

• Use language that is easily understood. Do not use jargon.

• Share personal information about yourself. e.g. Where you come from and other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities you may have worked in.

• Do not expect all Aboriginal people to share information regarding families and culture or local history.

• A person of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander decent does not have to identity as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

• Some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander do not know their families histories.

• Silence should not be misunderstood. It should be respected. The person may be reflecting on what you have said and may want more time to think about the answer to a question.

• Ask direct questions.

• In some communities direct eye contact can be a sign of disrespect and in other communities direct eye contact will be expected.

• Be sensitive when gaining information.

• Some questions will not be answered.

• Where possible allow a support person to accompany the client.

• Not all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people want to work with a Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Worker.

Traditionally

There were between 200 and 250 aboriginal languages spoken, with many different dialects, producing up to 700 varieties. This makes Aboriginal Australia one of the most linguistically diverse areas on the planet. Within the space of 80 kilometres you can still pass through the territories of three languages ‘less closely related than English, Russian and Hindu.’ (The oxford Companion to Australian History, 1998)

 

10. Connecting with Aboriginal Communities

10. Connecting with Aboriginal Communities

Here are some suggestions about developing rapport with the local Aboriginal Community.

Each community is different and has its own protocols and these should be respected.

In most communities there is an Aboriginal Community Council, Local Aboriginal Land Council or Organisation that governs the Aboriginal Community.

Most Communities will have an Aboriginal Worker in the Department of Education or the Department of Health.

Coordinators and Chairpersons often do not make decisions and information is taken to meetings for the members to look at and decide if a decision is made. This can be time consuming so you need to be patient.

Remember, you are there to acquire their knowledge and you are there to learn from them.

Networking

• Introducing your service/organisation to your local Aboriginal organizations. e.g. Make an appointment to see the Coordinator of the organization/service or address a recognized forum.

• Be prepared to be flexible, and don’t hurry things. Consulting with Aboriginal people and communities takes time. You will need to arrange another meeting to answer questions and clarify after there has been time to reflect on the meeting.

• Attend functions that recognise the struggle and celebration of Aboriginal people. Eg Sorry Day, NAIDOC week, Reconciliation Week.

• Visit and introduce yourself to local Aboriginal Workers in your area.

• Gain an understanding of Local Aboriginal Culture by researching and completing “Worksheet No.1”

Questions to answer

Who are the Traditional Custodians of the Land?

Who are the Elders in the Local Community?

Who is the Coordinator of the Local Aboriginal Land Council?

Who is the Chairperson of the Local Aboriginal Land Council?

Name the Local Aboriginal Organisations/ Services

Who are the Aboriginal Workers in the community?

When is “Sorry Day”?
What does NAIDOC stand for?

 

 

11. Meetings and consultations

11. Meetings and consultations

When organizing a meeting or consultation with the Aboriginal community, service providers may need the guidance of Indigenous workers. These workers can introduce and provide a link to the community they work with to ensure that you do not offend important people and community leaders. Some points to consider when meeting with the Aboriginal community include:

  • Allow ample time for consultations and meetings; keep in mind the concept of Koori time. Aboriginal peoples may need extra time to come together and feel comfortable about the meeting. Meetings should be structured and allow time for story sharing. Ensure there is enough time to reflect on the meeting. You may need to arrange another meeting to answer questions and discuss concerns. Meetings may be done progressively over the day or start the meeting when the majority of expected Aboriginal community members are present;
  • Take the time to develop relationships that are equal and genuine. This will ensure that consultations and meeting do not appear tokenistic;
  • It is important to consider your presentation and personal appearance when meeting with the Aboriginal community. Ensure your appearance and language reflects a respectful manner;
  • Silence should not be misunderstood. It should be respected. The person may be reflecting on what you have said and may want more time to think about the answer to a question;
  • It is important to consider your use of eye contact when speaking with Aboriginal peoples. In some circumstances direct eye contact will be appropriate but other people may find it very uncomfortable;
  • Where possible follow up any formal contact you have with the Aboriginal community e.g. letters and invitations, with face to face contact. Remember some Aboriginal people lack confidence in reading and writing;
  • Chairpersons, Workers and other representatives from the Aboriginal community often do not make immediate decisions. Information from a meeting or consultation may need to be taken to other members of the Aboriginal community to discuss and decide if a decision is made. This can be time consuming so you need to be patient;
  • Aboriginal groups may need to revisit a decision reached at a previous meeting. This is important in supporting the group to make a joint decision;
  • Documentation in a meeting is important. Take notes so you can clarify priorities and issues with the Aboriginal community;
  • Continue to stay in touch and keep the Aboriginal community informed. This will help maintain good relationships and trust;
  • The choice of venue is important. The venue needs to be in a place where communities feel comfortable. Consider using a neutral venue if there are fractions within the Aboriginal communities.

 

12. Home visits

12. Home visits

Home visits can offer invaluable insights and provide new understanding about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Home Visits also reveal the emotional and social needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

  • If possible ask an Aboriginal Worker in the community to accompany you on the first visit.
  • Make appointments in advance and follow up with a reminder
  • Be flexible
  • Be prepared for unexpected occurrences. eg. Cancellation, new situations.
  • Be prepared when visitors call in. Remember Confidentiality. Rearrange appointment if necessary.
  • Make the first visit brief.
  • Personal sharing can put the client at ease.
  • Observing and listening can lead to insights.
  • If offered a cuppa always accept. (If you don’t drink tea or coffee ask for water).

Confidentiality

An Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person needs to be reassured that the intonation they give you will be confidential.

Kinship and expended families may result in a person not wishing to work with another Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Worker.

An Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person can experience shame, discrimination as well as the added burden of alienation and rejection from family and community if confidentiality is broken.

Traditionally

Aboriginal lore/law required a person who did not ‘belong’ to a particular area, to be invited or granted permission, to enter into the territory of a tribe. In other words, he or she could not simply wander into the land of another tribe. To do so invited hostility that could result in the death of the individual (trespassing).

When someone wanted to visit another tribe, they carried a message stick – a piece of bark or timber that was decorated with symbols. These symbols were a form of passport that identified the intent or authority of the bearer and ‘communication’ took place verbally (or by sign language), between the ‘stranger’ and those whom s/he wanted to visit. “The passing of a boundary line by the blacks of another territory was considered as an act of hostility against the denizens of the invaded grounds, and wars were frequently the sequence of such transgressions. “(The Aborigines of Australia, Roderick J Flanagan, 1888, pp 46)

 


13. Death in an Aboriginal community

13. Death in an Aboriginal community

Each community deals with the death of an Aboriginal differently. In some communities the entire community shuts down for “Sorry Business”. This is a grieving process in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities. The mourning period can be a week to indefinitely.

Protocol for dealing with a death in Aboriginal Communities

Refer to your local Aboriginal organization or Aboriginal Worker for local protocol regarding a death in the community.

Organisations should fly the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Flag at half mask.

In some Aboriginal communities it is culturally inappropriate to use the deceased name or to show a photograph of the deceased person. In some communities it is appropriate to refer to the deceased person as ‘John Smiths brother’ or ‘Sara Smith’s father. Some communities give a mourning name to the deceased.

A death in a family affects the whole community and may impact on previous obligations made to your organization. Immediate and extended families will always take first priority.

Traditionally
Death was always a time of sorrow and supernatural fear among traditional ATSI people. Wailing or crying was a common occurrence among the mourners who often painted their bodies with pipe clay, red ochre, or charcoal when a relative or friend died. In some districts people wore a head covering made of feathers. Other beat their bodies with sticks or clubs, or cut themselves with shells or stone knives to cause bleeding. In these instances the period of sorrow or mourning, was considered to be at an end when their wounds were healed. http://www.crystalinks.com/aboriginals2.html

 

 

14. Specialist protocols

14. Specialist protocols

Many organisations have developed specialist protocols. For example:

NSW Health Welcome to Country Protocols Policy (PDF)