This article was written for Relationships Australia, and was originally published here.
This 26 January – and beyond – spend some time reflecting on how you can be a good ally to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
An ally is anyone who stands with, beside and supports another person or group – particularly marginalised groups. We spoke to some of Relationship Australia NSW’s Aboriginal staff members to learn how to be a respectful and supportive ally to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
They told us that educating ourselves about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture, speaking up against racism, and listening to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices are all great places to start.
Learn about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and culture
In order to be a good ally, you first need to understand the history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. “Understand our culture pre-colonisation, and know the ongoing impacts of colonisation and marginalisation, says Julie Wilson, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Practice Specialist, and proud Aboriginal woman who is descended from the Ngyiampaa and Barkindji people of Western NSW.
“An ally must know what our experiences have been and still are – it’s not just historical!”, she says. “Watch some documentaries and movies, read books, go to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and events and make connections, especially in your local area. Know whose land you live on! Join a local reconciliation group,” says Julie.
Our resources section below has some recommended websites, books and organisations to check out.
Be courageous and speak up
If you hear someone saying something racist, reinforcing stereotypes or being dismissive of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people or culture, make sure you say something.
“Be courageous – speak up and call out others on their behaviours and words, without being asked to do so,” says Kathi McCulloch, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging Manager at Relationships Australia NSW, and proud Bundjalung woman.
Saying something might look like pulling the person up on their ‘joke’ or statement, and asking them why they think it’s acceptable to say such things. It might feel unfamiliar at first, but it’s part of being a strong ally, and will get easier over time.
Reflect on your own privilege
If you are living on the unceded lands of another people, you have privilege. Kathi suggests that allies can “reflect on what privilege they hold, and get comfortable with examining that privilege.”
White fragility, a term coined by Robyn DiAngelo, is when a white person has defensive reactions when questioned about race or is made to consider their own race. Reflecting on your own privilege and white fragility can be uncomfortable, but it’s important if you want to be a genuine ally, Kathi says.
A good ally “has done a great deal of personal reflection” and has “a good knowledge and understanding of the past policies and practises that have marginalised our people,” Julie adds. “They have done some homework and personal investigations [and they] constantly reflect on and review their own privilege and unconscious biases.”
Listen and learn from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices
An ally listens and learns from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, never assuming they know the answer, or that they can answer or speak on behalf of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“Although we have a shared history, we have many different lived experiences,” Julie says. “Listening to as many people and their experiences as possible gives an ally a fuller knowledge of the impacts for our people and the continuing transgenerational trauma that still resonates.”
“Good allies are people who genuinely listen and learn from us,” she continues. “They acknowledge us as the First Australians and respect us and our place as the Oldest Living Culture on Earth”. They also “support us to reach positions of power and influence to reclaim places of social equity and governance.”
Resources for learning about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, history and communities
If you’re not sure where to start in your learning, here are some great resources:
- SBS On Demand, TEDx and NITV have some great videos, such as First Footprints and First Australians
- Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) is great for sourcing information
- Reconciliation Australia promote and facilitate reconciliation by building relationships, respect and trust between the wider Australian community and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
- Creative Spirits is an extensive resource of e-books, infographics and multimedia on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture and history
- Healing Foundation have some great videos on the impact of intergenerational trauma and the stolen generations
- IndigenousX offers a wide range of Indigenous knowledge, experiences and opinions
- Marcia Langton’s Welcome to Country outlines a wide range of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander owned or operated travel experiences across Australia.
With the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population making up 3.3% of the Australian population, the need for allies is great. Above all, being a genuine ally to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people means being willing to constantly learn and grow. It’s also so personally enriching to learn about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, and grow in appreciation and respect for the Oldest Living Culture on Earth.
Relationships Australia NSW offers counselling if you feel like you need some extra support. Get in touch today.