NAIDOC week is a week devoted to celebrating the achievements and culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia, members of the oldest continuous culture in the world.
The Illawarra has a rich Indigenous history, and NAIDOC week is a prime opportunity to get out and learn more about the Indigenous culture that’s in our own backyards. During NAIDOC week, events showcasing local dreaming stories, traditional Indigenous languages, artwork and dance share Aboriginal culture with the broader community.
These annual public displays are a chance to take a look at the work that the Illawarra Indigenous community is engaged in all year long. Throughout the year, the local Aboriginal community is involved in many activities designed to keep their rich heritage alive - art and craft cooperatives, bush regeneration programs and bush tucker catering ventures.
A cultural awareness training camp at Kioloa provides an opportunity to learn more about Aboriginal culture and practices. This kind of cultural training is needed because, although we have shared this country with Aboriginal people for over 200 years, our mainstream systems and institutions display a noticeable lack of cultural sensitivity to Indigenous differences.
Traditionally, Aboriginal people structured their daily lives around extended kin relationships – a structure far removed from the impersonal institutions that shape most of modern Australia. Rather than imposing western institutions on Aboriginal communities, who have lived in Australia for up to 120,000 years, we need to engage with them to understand and satisfy their cultural needs. For IRT, this has meant designing a tailored home care service that rethinks existing models of service delivery to support Aboriginal seniors to age well. IRT Foundation’s Booraja home care project, developed in collaboration with Katungul Aboriginal Corporation, takes into account the importance of kinship and culture.
The first program of its kind worldwide, Booraja allows Elders to stay connected to kin and Country by receiving the care they need to stay at home. Booraja recognises that Indigenous people prefer to be cared for by other Indigenous people, and so IRT Academy is training young Aboriginal jobseekers using a culturally appropriate aged care training program. As a result, Booraja is also creating much-needed employment pathways for young Indigenous people as Booraja staff members. This also creates the time for sharing of culture and knowledge between generations – an activity that has made this the oldest living culture in the world.
There are other inroads towards culturally sensitive Indigenous aged care initiatives being made elsewhere in Australia too. A landmark report on assuring equity of access and quality outcomes for older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples was released last month. In Western Australia, a culturally-sensitive program for Indigenous people living with dementia, where they are cared for on Country by Aboriginal care workers, has transformed and saved the lives of seniors there.
I encourage the local business community to consider adopting a social procurement policy that will generate employment opportunities for Indigenous job seekers. Step out of your comfort zone and make a change that will positively impact the lives of the Illawarra’s First Peoples. Toby Dawson is the IRT Foundation Manager