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Wednesday 17 July 2019

Guest Post: Story Box Library Reflects on NAIDOC Week Theme: Voice. Treaty. Truth.

Jackie Small, Education Consultant at StoryBox Library, reflects on last week's NAIDOC theme; Voice. Treaty. Truth. 

One year since launching our Indigenous Story Time series, NAIDOC Week 2019 and its theme of Voice. Treaty. Truth provided an opportunity for us to reflect on the aims of the series and the quality and relevance of the resources we are providing educators and families.

Story Box Library (SBL) hoped to satisfy an expressed need from educators and librarians for better representation of Indigenous content, but as a non-Indigenous team, there was some trepidation about whether we were qualified and worthy to produce material relating to Australia’s First Peoples. From anecdotal evidence, we found this to be a common feeling amongst non-Indigenous educators.

In 2018, SBL secured a grant through the Australia Council for the Arts that helped finance the professional and cultural support we needed to embark on the project, and led us on a path of meaningful engagement and consultation with many talented and knowledgeable First Nations people.

We do not claim to be an authority in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures, but we do aim to lead by example in working collaboratively with Indigenous Australians in producing educational resources.

Ultimately, SBL provides a platform for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander authors, illustrators and storytellers to share their voice, their stories, their experiences, their cultures and their truths. Most recently, SBL published a short film titled,  Stories Connect Us All, in which many of our contributors discussed the personal importance of Story in their lives.

From the beginning of the series, we placed incredible importance on celebrating the works of First Nations peoples, ensuring they were represented in our library and demonstrating our belief that Australian children need access to diverse books in schools and libraries.

Sharing these stories contributes to the wider community developing its understandings of First Nations and their cultures but, more importantly, it also allows Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children the opportunity to identify with the characters and stories showcased on a mainstream platform, strengthening their pride in their culture and their sense of belonging to their community.

From a small business point of view, our interpretation of the term, treaty, has been to engage in meaningful consultation with members of Australia’s First Nations, including, authors, illustrators, storytellers, academic consultants and individuals from Indigenous publishing houses.

The key to developing learning programs around Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures is consultancy and collaboration. Non-Indigenous educators must rely on the language group of a school’s local area to contribute knowledge and the approach of this cross-curriculum priority at school level in order to develop an accurate and shared Australian history and future.

Whilst the SBL team has learned a great deal, we acknowledge that there are limitations with our Classroom Ideas.  Namely, that we cannot represent all language groups in a single resource. For this reason, we stress the importance of localising our resources for your school by connecting with Elders and members of local language groups through local councils or state Aboriginal education consultative committees, and engaging in respectful and active listening with these people when sharing stories about their group and the land in which they belong. 

From our own experiences, this process allows individuals to unpack misunderstandings and generalisations formed in order to gain a better understanding of the complexities of First Nations. 

The stories selected as part of the Indigenous Story Time series are diverse, as are the storytellers, but each allows the authors an opportunity for personal and historical truths to be told, heard and acknowledged.

Indigenous Story Time addresses the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures cross-curriculum priority, with individual stories directly linked to the key concepts of Country/Place, Culture and People. In Your Dreams, Dreamers and My Country provide readers with a better understanding of the belief systems of 
Aboriginal and Torres Strait  cultures, including special connections to Country/Place, respect and responsibility for the environment and sustainability of resources, while the narrative of The Lost Girl highlights an example of unique kinship structure.

Sorry Day, Stolen Girl, Alfreds War, Once There Was a Boy, Tea and Sugar Christmas and The Shack That Dad Built are examples of stories in the series that explore the impact of government policies, historical experiences and colonisation on Aboriginal individuals and communities.

Some of the stories in the series can also act as reference points for discussing languages of First Nations and Aboriginal English, how language has changed over time, including the change in acceptable use of language overtime, and how English and First Nation languages have influenced one another.  Language is explored in Welcome to Country, which introduces readers to the language of the Wurundjeri People. Accompanying resources encourage the exploration of language, the meaning of words and the ability or inability for some words to be translated accurately.

To gain a greater consideration of the work we’re doing, educators can trial a SBL subscription in their schools, which includes at-home access for families.