Organised by UTS: Equity and Diversity, the Introduction to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Culture workshop is an introduction to the history and culture of Australia’s First Nations people, and the world’s oldest living culture. This workshop is run for UTS staff by David Widders, a proud Anaiwan man from Armidale, NSW. With his seemingly boundless knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, his willingness to answer all manner of questions from attendees and his sense of humour, David ran an excellent and comprehensive workshop. Over a few hours we covered a wide variety of topics and issues, but here are just four memorable points from the workshop.
1. Don’t underestimate the importance of language
As one attendee at the workshop expressed, it can be hard to know which words to use in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait people and culture. There’s no simple answer, although of course language should always be respectful. As a general guide, David informed us that the correct term is ‘Aboriginal’ rather than ‘Aborigine’ when describing people, and that ‘Indigenous’ is a catch-all term mainly used by institutions, and not necessarily complex enough to capture the differences between cultural groups. Ultimately, language should be agreed on in consultation with the groups you’re talking to, or about.
2. We can all become better acquainted with the colonial history of Australia
One of many interesting moments in the workshop occurred when David asked if we could name any historical massacres of Aboriginal and Torres Strait people. The entire group came up with about 4 different instances, but we know from recent reports that this is only a fraction of the violence in Australian history. This was a useful exercise in revealing commonly held misconceptions and gaps in understanding.
3. There’s more than one map of this country
This is somewhat connected to the issues of using the term ‘indigenous’ to describe a range of diverse First Nations cultures. Some of you might have seen this map of pre-colonisation Australia. From looking at the multitude of territories that existed, you can begin to understand why we say ‘First Nations’ people (emphasis on the plural). There is not one Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander culture, but many.
4. Good communication benefits everyone
A quick show of hands in the group illustrated that the majority of us were there to improve our cross-cultural communication understanding and skills. It’s a good sign that we’re acknowledging our shortcomings and doing something to change them. We already know that creating a culture of social inclusion and increasing participation rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in both study and work at UTS is a priority, so education initiatives like this workshop are surely a step in the right direction.
How to get involved
Rejecting racism and making society more inclusive is a cause that we can all work toward. I’d recommend this workshop to any UTS staff member who has an interest in learning more about Australian history, about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, and in learning what one can do as an individual to create a better environment for your Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander students and colleagues.
UTS: Equity & Diversity will be running this workshop again during Diversity Week. Please visit their page to find out more and register for this great opportunity.