Reconciliation in schools
Australia is widely known as The Lucky Country, a place where all people are free to live in comfort and safety. Though this is true for many, it is a saddening reality that Indigenous Australian men and women have an average life expectancy 17 years below that of their non-Indigenous counterparts.
In schools across Victoria, young people are contributing to efforts to end this health inequality and to campaign for Aboriginal rights and recognition. However, there’s always room for more help.
Striving for equality for Indigenous Australians is increasingly becoming a part of the culture of many Victorian schools. Whether through specific groups or school-wide initiatives, passionate students and staff alike are working to make change.
Amy Tremewen, who is finishing Year 12 at Avila College in Mount Waverley, is one such student. This year she helped lead the Reconciliation Group at her school, a group that has been active for over 13 years.
"Reconciliation" is a powerful term for describing unity and respect between Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islanders and non-Indigenous Australians.
"Basically, the group is trying to raise awareness of Aboriginal culture, spirituality and political issues," Amy says. "We are trying to spread the message of Reconciliation, within the school community and the wider community."
Amy's group has been involved in a number of projects over the past year, such as fundraising and signing petitions for the Close the Gap (new window) campaign run by Oxfam Australia.
They also organized a forum involving other local schools, about recognising Indigenous peoples in the Australian Constitution. This is a hot topic at the moment, with the Federal Government considering launching a referendum about whether our constitution should be changed for this purpose.
Amy believes that inter-school forums are a great way for students involved in Reconciliation to share tips and motivation.
"Any of those networking opportunities have been really good," says Amy. "Students love meeting other people who are interested in the same things, and we all use each others' skills and ideas of what has worked and what hasn’t worked."
The FIRE Carrier Project
Amy is not only a member of her Reconciliation Group, but a leader at her school through the FIRE (Friends Igniting Reconciliation through Education) Carrier project. This is a program run by the Opening the Doors Foundation (new window), which supports young Aboriginal Australians through education. By November 2011 the foundation had supported 524 students for the year.
The project involves electing leaders, called FIRE Carriers, who promote reconciliation in their schools and fundraise for Opening the Doors. Other than being a catchy acronym, the name emphasises the importance of fire in Aboriginal culture.
Sherry Balcombe, Co-coordinator for the FIRE Carrier project, says it has gained momentum since it began in 2010. "After two years, it has been fantastic," says Sherry. "I am constantly inspired by the enthusiasm of the students."
The FIRE Carrier project is open to any school or organization that is willing to follow its guidelines, which can be found on its website (new window)
Why we are Important to Reconciliation
Though the Government is working to achieve equality in our country, all Australians can contribute to this essential endeavor. Peter Lewis, the President of prominent organisation ANTaR (Australians for National Title and Recognition) (new window), says young people are imperative to this process.
"It’s very important for young people to be involved in reconciliation and Aboriginal rights issues, because these issues raise a fundamental question about the nation’s character," says Peter.
Peter explains that learning about Aboriginal culture and the graciousness of Aboriginal communities allows us to "discover a deeper understanding of what it means to be Australian."
For those wishing to become more involved in reconciliation, the option is always open. Peter suggests that the best way to begin is by educating ourselves. He suggests looking up Gary Foley’s Koori History Website (new window), or reading a copy of the Koori Mail (new window).
"Another step is to have a cross-cultural experience," says Peter. "Some NGO groups including ANTaR can organize such events, or talk to a group like Oxfam about volunteering for a couple of weeks in an Aboriginal community."
Start your own group
For those wishing to start a reconciliation group in their school, Amy can also offer some wise advice. "One thing we found was that you have to have teachers on board and integrate it in to your school spirit," she says. "I think it always helps if you have one particular cause that you focus on, such as Close the Gap."
Amy advises that you "just have to be persistent" and not become disheartened if some ambitions don’t work out as planned. She also says that if people are interested, the resources aren’t so important. "Our group doesn’t have many resources and we only meet once a week, but we can still achieve so much through just pure manpower."
Reconciliation is not about charity, but about working together to establish a better Australia. In the words of Aboriginal artist, activist and academic Lilla Watson, "If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."
For more articles about community and activism, check out our Articles archive.
Reviews written by Marnie
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