National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children’s Day has been formally celebrated since 1988, when we took to the streets in protest. In truth, Children’s Day has been celebrated in community, in some form or another, for much longer than that.
Children’s Day has always been community driven – it certainly was when SNAICC introduced it – and amongst all high profile national events of the day today, it’s still very much a community celebration.
Children’s Day is a day where all Australians can celebrate how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children contribute to our society: a day to promote positive stories, and the importance of children’s culture.
However, Children’s Day was originally born of necessity: our kids were excluded. Many felt they did not matter: they couldn’t see where they fit into society and they certainly didn’t feel that they were part of it.
As the first National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Children’s Day was set against this backdrop it was decided that a day was needed to celebrate our children, to give them confidence and make them feel special and included. With so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in orphanages and institutions many children didn’t know their own birthday. In these places one day was set aside each year to celebrate a communal birthday – 4 August.
One of the truly horrible ongoing effects of colonisation, and the centuries of racism that has followed it, is that our kids grow up in a world of disempowerment and shame. However strong and successful everyone in their world may be, they all carry with them some shame. Even growing up in a happy family, without direct trauma, kids can live their whole lives grieving something.
Today it’s the case that we actively fight to instil pride in our kids, in who they are. In that sense, Children’s Day was created as a tool to teach our kids to be confident.
That’s a responsibility of every generation: to instil confidence in the generation that follows.
Children’s Day is about celebrating all children. It’s about celebrating our culture. It’s about celebrating who our kids are, their strengths, and how they make our lives and world better. Furthermore, it’s about thousands of organisations and services that want to see things improve for our kids.
There’s more to each Children’s Day theme than I think many people stop to consider. An incredible amount of thought goes into developing the theme each year. We reach out to a lot of our members – our community-controlled organisations; early years services and state peaks – for their consultation and collaboration before deciding on a theme.
With 2016’s My Country, Our Country – We All Belong we have some messages that are absolutely vital.
The understating of belonging, on a whole, is quite limited when we consider it across the wider Australian population.
A big part of that is understanding where we’re at in recognising, and valuing, the strengths of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.
Our people have been practicing and passing on our cultural traditions for 60,000 years. That’s 60,000 years of nurturing and caring for our children, passing on our cultural knowledge, our languages, our cultural practices, to successive generations.
When we talk about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures today we’re talking about the strengths of these continuing traditions, and this wealth of knowledge, but we’re also reflecting on the resilience of our people, who – in the face of discrimination, and racism, and everything else that colonisation brought with it – have continued to develop positive self-identity in our kids and pride in their cultural heritage.
Children’s Day gives us an opportunity to not only celebrate our kids, but also that practice of passing on our cultural knowledge, and an appreciation of that cultural knowledge itself.
Everyone in this country – and this particularly extends to our schools, and organisations across all industries and sectors and government – should actively be developing their knowledge, respect and understanding of our cultures and history.
A great place to start is working towards cultural awareness and competency being embedded in organisations and governments Australia wide, and that we’re celebrating our cultures through national days of celebration and remembrance, like NAIDOC Week, or Children’s Day, or Mabo Day and Sorry Day.
We have a logical step to take in this journey, and there are two clear parts. We should deepen future generation’s understanding of our cultures and history by meaningfully engraining it into our school education curriculum. In that same breath, we should be providing our children with the opportunities to learn in their cultures and languages, and our early childhood curriculum is the best place to start.
This is particularly important for our kids in out-of-home care, and ensuring the Child Placement Principle is implemented plays a major role in that responsibility.
When we talk about accountability for mainstream organisations and services, being culturally aware and competent is fundamental; working alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and developing genuine partnerships, is the other side of that coin.
Self-determination, Aboriginal people making decisions for Aboriginal people, is the key to brighter futures for our kids. Better outcomes are achieved when we have control over our own lives, and are empowered to address the problems facing our own communities.
Too often we see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices left out of public debate; of policy development; of service design and delivery.
The hastily set up of the Royal Commission into the Detention of Children in the Northern Territory, which omitted Aboriginal voice and leadership, is an obvious example of this.
There are countless reasons why our voices are so often marginalised. We’re the minority in this country – our country – and it’s hard for the majority to forfeit power and control. It’s a clear imbalance, and it can be confronting to address.
Another is the sickness we call racism.
Non-Indigenous Australians can play a part in addressing these imbalances by partnering with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in a genuine way, and making sure our voices are heard, especially in responding to the needs of our children and families.
We have a responsibility to foster these meaningful relationships. Every government organisation and individual in Australia should be reaching out to build relationships with Australia’s traditional owners. These relationships can take many shapes: from consultation on service implementation to partnering up to host a Children’s Day event. What’s really important is that there is mutual respect, mutual support, and that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices are heard and that input is valued.
Also, where our children and families are concerned, requirements to build and handover service capacity to our community-controlled organisations should be our goal. Our organisations as best placed to serve the needs of our people.
Supporting these ideals is more readily achievable than you might think. Campaigns like Family Matters: Kids safe in culture, not in care are designed to allow organisations to support our leaders address the over-representation of our children in out-of-home care.
I also know there are other campaigns across child and family support, health, education, women, disability, and legal sectors, all of which support representative, independent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voice in driving a fairer future for our people.
So, on 4 August, make sure you’re not only celebrating our little ones, you’re celebrating with a group of people, and you’re talking about how you are going to make the future look better for these kids.
SNAICC was formally established in 1981 after the creation of such a body was proposed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at the ‘First Aboriginal Child Survival Seminar’ held in Melbourne in 1979. The organisation elected its first national executive in 1982 and has received Federal Government funding support from 1983.
SNAICC has a membership base of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-based child care agencies, Multi-functional Aboriginal Children’s Services, creches, long day care child care services, pre schools, early childhood education services, early childhood support organisations, family support services, foster care agencies, link up and family reunification services, family group homes, community groups and voluntary associations, and services for young people at risk.
SNAICC also has a network and subscriber base of over 1400 organisations and individuals, mostly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, but also significant numbers of other community based services and individuals and state and federal agencies with an interest in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and children.
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