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WORKING IN REMOTE

ABORIGINAL
COMMUNITIES

A practical guide for teachers

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Table of Contents
Introduction............................................................................................................................................ 3
Cultural Values ..................................................................................................................................... 4
Country .................................................................................................................................................. 4
Aboriginal concept of family and community.................................................................................... 5
Extended family ................................................................................................................................ 5
Kinship ............................................................................................................................................... 5
Engaging with Aboriginal people and communities ........................................................................ 6
Get to know the community ............................................................................................................ 6
Communication techniques ............................................................................................................ 7
Building a rapport ............................................................................................................................. 8
References .......................................................................................................................................... 10

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Introduction
Working in remote Aboriginal communities: A practical guide for teachers is a guide
for all graduate teachers looking to work in remote indigenous communities. It has
been developed to improve the teaching experience by providing key information on
the cultural protocols relevant to working in Aboriginal communities.
It is imperative that teachers understand and respect the cultural protocol prior to
entering the community.
This resource will help teachers become more culturally aware and responsive to the
needs of Aboriginal people and communities. It is written as a guide to promote
culturally sensitive practices, which will enable teachers to have more meaningful
experiences in the community, with particular emphasis on building relationships and
establishing trust and respect.
The relationships developed in the community helps gain an in-depth understanding
of their cultural practices. This knowledge will help the teacher become culturally
responsive and in turn inform culturally appropriate pedagogies that connects to
students and communities (Perso, 2012). As a result of contextualising classroom
practice will increase the teachers relevance to the community and students alike;
thus, reducing alienation and resistance (Partington, 1997, p.63).
However, in order to be culturally responsive, teaching requires that the teacher has
specific knowledge of the language, customs, and values of the cultural groups with
which they are working. These factors must be in place before effective, crosscultural engagement can begin (Perso, 2012).
Working in remote Aboriginal communities provides important information to improve
the teachers knowledge and understanding of the diverse dynamics that exist within
communities. It suggests some engagement and communication strategies that will
improve the way you work with and relate to Aboriginal people.
Beyond Teachers Australia is committed to ensuring that teachers have access to
culturally responsive information and supports. Having a greater understanding of
the cultural protocols puts teachers in a better position to assimilate effectively in the
community.
Aboriginal culture and communities are varied and there are many different tribes
living in Australia. This document is not a one size fits all approach. It is
recommended that you tailor the ways of working and communicating to meet the
needs of the individuals and communities concerned.

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Cultural Values
According to National Disability Services (NDS) (n.d.), the following values are
central to Aboriginal culture. These values influence the way Aboriginal people live
and how they interact with others. Teachers need to be taught appropriate processes
for working with members of the community and their success in the practice
depends very much on their willingness to adapt (Partington, 1997).

Family (including extended family)

Shared Responsibility each person is required to be responsible in one area


or another. If this role is neglected it becomes automatic for another member
of the family or extended family to fill in.

Acceptance each individual is understood for both their strengths and


weaknesses.

Sharing-is seen as part of Aboriginal peoples responsibility, it is an honour.

Equality-each person is respected with the right to be an equal

Belonging-to your people, your land and your rights are of utmost
importance.

Ownership-is a shared experience.

Land-gives us a complete sense of belonging.

Respect-for ones positions and responsibilities in all areas.

Time Orientation Aboriginal people often focus on the past and present
rather than on the future.

Person Orientation human relationships and interactions are valued.


Material gain may have little or no interest.

Country
The concept of country is fundamental to Aboriginal culture. Aboriginal people are
the original owners of the land and it is important that this special position is
recognised and incorporated into official activities. This enables the wider community
to pay respect to Aboriginal people, share in Aboriginal culture and build better
relationships.
When organising a meeting, school event, it is respectful to acknowledge the land in
which you are meeting and its original custodians.
For example, at the start of the gathering you may say I would like to acknowledge
the original custodians, the Bundjalung people, on whose land we are meeting today.
I would also like to pay my respects to Elders past and present, and welcome all
Aboriginal people here with us today. (NSW Department of Community Services,
2009)

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Aboriginal concept of family and community


Extended family
Knowledge of the structures and concepts that exist in Aboriginal families and
communities is important in building relationships.
Aboriginal people have strong family values and their family system has an
extended family structure. It is important that teachers have an understanding of
this concept when working in Aboriginal communities.
According to NSW Department of Community Services (2009), the concepts of
extended family and community as family in Aboriginal communities encompass the
idea that children are not just the concern of the entire community and not just of the
biological parents. The raising, care, education and discipline of children are the
responsibility of everyone. An extended family structure is based on:
Blood-related (mum, dad, brother, sister, grandmother/ father, cousin, aunty,
uncle)
Marriage (aunty, uncle, cousin)
Community (Elder, neighbour, friend, organisation)
Kinship system (aunty, uncles, cousins or Elders)
Non-related family (Elder, friend, community member)
Mutual respect a sense of belonging
Acceptance and knowledge of Aboriginal kinship ties
Mutual obligation and support.

Kinship
Kinship systems define where a person fits into the community. Kinship systems may
vary across communities, but the principle is the same across Australia. Kinship
defines the roles and responsibilities for raising and educating children and
structures systems of moral and financial support within the community. The family
structure is linked with the community and with this knowledge comes a complex
system of roles and duties within the community (NSW Department of Community
Services, 2009).
Aboriginal children learn at an early age the kinship ties that exist within their
community and subsequently their place in the community (NSW Department of
Community Services, 2009).

Practical tips

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Find out what community structures are in place. This will help with how you
go about networking and presenting yourself to the community.

Be aware of dynamics between families and the community.

Engaging with Aboriginal people and communities


Get to know the community
Prior to starting your role as a teacher, it is important that you find out as much as
possible about the community. KidsMatter (2014) offer the following key questions to
guide your research and communication with a trusted education worker or
community member.
1. Are there Elders in the community? If so, who are they?
2. Who are the other key people in the community?
3. What language/s do most people speak? Is there a local interpreter if one is
needed?
4. What should I be aware of about the community, particularly around
relationships?
5. What does the community want for its children?
6. What things are working well in the community? What could be improved?
7. Have the students had any teaching of social and emotional learning before?
8. What are the local protocols for:
Funerals?
Ceremonies (if any)?
naming or referring to people who have passed away?
The divide between mens and womens business?
sharing of cultural knowledge?

Aboriginal Elders
The Aboriginal Elders have a leadership role in communities. They are good points
of contact for establishing the correct people and groups to consult with in a
particular community. They also hold key community knowledge and have a great
deal of influence over when, how and if a community will work with those from the
outside (NSW Department of Community Services, 2009).
Therefore, it is important for the teacher to that you make contact with the elders and
community leaders as soon as possible.
Engaging with the Elder and local community early builds knowledge and
understanding of indigenous people. Perso (2012, p.44) emphasises knowledge
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should be learned on the job since first-hand experience is essential to understand


the belief systems and values of the primary culture of the students. Early
engagement with the Elder may also alleviate some of the teachers concerns about
teaching indigenous students. This will provide a positive engagement early to help
break down historical race stereotypes (Bennet & Moriarty, 2013).

Practical tips when engaging with an Elder

Introduce yourself and ask for guidance on how you should approach people
in their community.

Ask how to dress and what particular protocols apply to the local communities.

Find out if there are any community groups or regular places where Aboriginal
people meet.

As a teacher in their community, is it essential that you know what the


community wants for its children. Show respect for the Elders and involve
them during the planning of the curriculum and all of the decision making
processes. Negotiating with elders/community on how certain things are learnt
reinforces the notion that teaching and learning is a shared responsibility.

Make it a point of addressing elders by the title, Mr or Mrs.

Learn as much as possible about the community.

Communication techniques
Teachers have the responsibility to build effective partnerships with Aboriginal
people and communities. This may be achieved by working closely with the Elders
and leaders of the community. Teachers will benefit by gaining an understanding on
communication methods when talking to community members.

Practical communication tips

Dont mimic Aboriginal speech or attempt to speak Aboriginal English as a


way of encouraging an Aboriginal person to be more open.

Respect the use of silence and dont mistake it for misunderstanding.

Always wait your turn to speak.

Be aware that words might have different meanings in different communities.

Use clear, uncomplicated language.

If you do not understand them, do not continually ask a person to repeat


themselves, especially in front of a large gathering.

Swearing is not considered to be offensive.

Be open, honest and respectful.

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Eye contact
Direct eye contact may be offensive to some Aboriginal people. It is better to avoid
eye contact upon initial meetings until you know if eye contact is offensive. You can
detect if this is the case by noticing the amount of or lack of eye contact used when
communicating (NDS, n.d.).
Hand shaking
When you meet someone for the first time, offer to shake their hand, however, do not
be offended if the handshake is not reciprocated. Some community members may
not shake your hand such as Aboriginal women (NDS, n.d.).

Building a rapport
Indigenous culture is focused on the centrality of relationships (Bennet & Moriarty,
2015, p.2). As with most relationships, it takes time to develop the network, trust and
respect of the community. To build a rapport with the community, it is vital to spend
time with the local Aboriginal community organisations, groups, Elders, children and
families as this will make a difference to the engagement process.
As a new member of the community, it is imperative that teachers play an active role
in the community and participate in as many relevant community events as possible.
This will help lay the groundwork for meaningful interaction with the community
(NSW Department of Community Services, 2009).
Effort in building a rapport provides a pathway to establishing authentic relationships
with Aboriginal people. This is essential since relationships are of primary in primary
importance in Indigenous cultures and society (KidsMatter, 2014).

Practical tips to build a rapport

Get to know the parents in the local community. Invite them to participate, or
help in the classroom.

Organise fun activities in the community such as breakfast clubs, family fun
days and BBQs. You will need to involve the whole community in order to
develop better relationships with families.

Become involved in supporting local events and functions. This is an informal


way of meeting the community and establishing relationships.

Attend community open days, fairs and other events.

Attend functions in the community that you are invited to.

Go to the regular places where Aboriginal meet, have a cup of tea and get to
know the locals.

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Pre-conceived attitudes and prejudices


Please be aware of your own pre-conceived views on society. Aboriginals are very
down to earth people. Their status is based on their community standing and social
status, and not on appearance, money, education, or employment. They are not
concerned about their outward appearance; therefore, do not pre-judge a person
based on their appearance of clothing, mannerisms and verbal communication
(NDS, n.d.).
You dont look Aboriginal?
Under no circumstances should you mention to an Aboriginal person that they dont
look Aboriginal, nor ask them how much Aboriginal is in them. This can be very
insulting. Even a statement such as I would not have picked you as an Aboriginal is
also insulting. If a person has identified themselves as Aboriginal, then you should
never question it (NDS, n.d.).

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References
Bennet, M., & Moriarty, B. (2015). Language, relationships and pedagogical
practices: pre-service teachers in an Indigenous Australian context.
International Journal Of Pedagogies & Learning, 10(1), 1-12.
doi:10.1080/22040552.2015.1084672
KidsMatter (2014). Engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strat Islander communities:
Supplement to the kidsmatter primary action team handbook. Retrieved from
https://www.kidsmatter.edu.au/sites/default/files/public/Handbook_engaging_
with_web.pdf.
National Disability Services (NDS) (n.d.). Working with Aboriginal people: A resource
to promote culturally responsive disability services in Western Australia.
Retrieved from
http://www.ideaswa.net/upload/editor/files/downloads/Working%20with%20Ab
original%20People.PDF
NSW Department of Community Services (2009). Working with aboriginal people
and communities: A practice resource. Retrieved from
http://www.carersaustralia.com.au/storage/2011Working%20with%20Aborigin
al%20People%20and%20Communities.pdf
Perso, T.F. (2012) Cultural Responsiveness and School Education: With particular
focus on Australias First Peoples; A Review & Synthesis of the Literature.
Menzies School of Health Research, Centre for Child Development and
Education, Darwin Northern Territory.

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