A workplaces commitment to Cultural Learning must be an ongoing continuous learning journey. Although this space started off as awareness and generally was designed by Governments and the Mining sector, it has evolved.

There are now more opportunities to learn from a diversity of providers than ever before. We spend our entire lives learning about the mainstream western system starting off as 4 year olds, Primary and Secondary School, then TAFE, University, Workplaces, and/or Professional Development. We are always learning but we never learn everything. Some of us end up being experts on a very small piece of that system. The Aboriginal Community system is as big, if not, bigger than the mainstream western system. Part of the key to Closing the Gaps and achieving Reconciliation is recognising this system, and learning about it. Unlike the Mainstream western system that we all live and walk in, that generally stays the same wherever you go in Australia, the Aboriginal Community system changes.

Over my 9 years in this Cultural Learning space (first through Gurrgura, and then Aboriginal Insights), I have developed a few things relevant to the Cultural Learning space. These include four stages on continuous learning:

Stage 1: Cultural Awareness or Cultural Foundations

Stage 2: Traditional Owner Specific (Cultural Differences – Identity, Country, Family, Cultural Obligations and Responsibilities)

Stage 3: Regional Specific (Cultural Differences from other Cultures from the region connected by a system, e.g. Gahlarra)

Stage 4: Workplace Specific (Knowledge specifically relevant to specific workplaces)

I recognise that many workplaces start at different stages, but most miss what I cover as part of my unique Cultural Foundations workshop, which is essential. It is unique because of my unique journey of living, working, and learning about the two systems.

The three workshop models that I have developed are:

  1. Cultural Foundations for Workplaces (Consultation, Engagement, Relationships based)
  2. Building Cultural Confidence (Traditional Owner Specific or Pilbara Region Specific)
  3. Culturally Safe & Responsive Workplaces (Co-designed with the workplace based on my model to respond to Aboriginal specific targets, strategies etc)

The second and third workshop are only available to workplaces that have completed the Cultural Foundations workshop.

Some of the learnings that attendees take away from attending my unique Cultural Foundations workshop include,

  • I offer learning that I describe as “Cultural Foundations”, but it is not generic because I still highlight cultural diversity and difference. I offer a model that draws out the cultural differences of a specific location, which then informs any engagement strategy. This is done through lessons, and a model that is a set of questions. I also highlight the relevance of historical impact to an Aboriginal person’s cultural knowledge and practice.
  • My definition of an Aboriginal person includes: (1) A bloodline connection to an Aboriginal person living in Australia prior to colonisation; (2) A belief system that is Family, Culture, and/or Community focussed (Collective purpose as opposed to the mainstream personal focus/ purpose); AND (3) A spirit that connects you to the lands of your ancestors. None of this criteria refers to the way a person looks or behaves, nor how much cultural knowledge they hold. Regardless of our country’s racist laws and policies that sought to destroy us, we are here and we survived.
  • The right to speak held by an Aboriginal person in relation to Community matters (not professional (or mainstream) expertise) only extends to the Communities that they are connected to and part of. I am part of only three Aboriginal Communities, (1) Roebourne; (2) City of Karratha; and (3) the Pilbara. A person’s right to speak in relation to specific professions are held only by those Aboriginal people from those professions and recognised by other Aboriginal people from that profession. For example, I will only speak on matters relevant to native title, the legal system, corporate governance, cultural learning, Aboriginal Health, or business. I don’t speak on matters I am not involved in professionally such as Family Violence or Child Abuse. Outside of these boundaries, I can speak as an Australian with an opinion, but not as an Aboriginal representative or expert.
  • An Aboriginal persons rights and interests at a cultural level only extend to their cultural groups and lands. Beyond this, they are a visitor with no rights.
  • The key to developing successful engagement strategies is learning about the Aboriginal Community system.
Speaking Events
The topics that I have strategically chosen to best support every workplace with their learning journey are unique to my business and personal life journey over the past 20 years (since leaving home at age 17 to pursue tertiary education). They include: (1) Diverse Aboriginal Cultures; (2) Truth & Reconciliation; (3) Stereotypes & Assumptions; (4) Aboriginal Community System; and (5) Respect & Relationships. This is delivered over a period of four hours.

As part of the first topic, I offer two types of definitions relating to “Aboriginal Community”. This definition provides attendees with a tool on “how to” define the Aboriginal Community that they are working with. This is especially important for service providers or workplaces involved in #Reconciliation or #Closing Gaps. This topic is strategically covered first because it is the most important learning for all Australians. Our Aboriginal Communities are diverse and different, so the key to building relationships and achieving outcomes is understanding the cultural diversity and differences of your defined Aboriginal Community. It is this knowledge that then must “inform” your engagement strategy. You cannot have one strategy for all Aboriginal

people, families, and Communities. The saying, “One size does not fit all” is understood through this topic. As a tool for workplaces, I offer my self-published book, “Essential Aboriginal Insights: A Guide for Anyone Involved in Closing Gaps in Australia” to further understand the importance of defining your Aboriginal Community and understanding cultural diversity. This book is most powerful when used with the knowledge set out in my workshop. The book offers my “how to” consult/ engage/ build relationships with any Aboriginal Community (once defined).

In topic two, I cover the importance of workplaces knowing our country’s truth. If any workplace is committed to #Reconciliation, they must also commit to learning about “what” we have to “reconcile”. We are not responsible for our history, but we are responsible for healing the impacts for the benefit of our current and future generations of Australians. Every workplace needs to know the truth that we have “gaps” that we are all working towards “closing” because of our history. We have gaps because of the truth that our country legally practised racism and discrimination up until 1975 when the Racial Discrimination Act was passed. Our history is not 500 years ago. It is recent and it is relevant to understanding and appreciating the context of commitments that our Governments and workplaces are making in relation to Aboriginal People’s. There are two important steps that precede Reconciliation and they are, (1) Truth; and (2) Healing. There is no reconciliation without these steps. We can’t change the past, but the key to changing our future is knowing our past. We don’t heal by ignoring our history. No one heals from any type of trauma by being told that what happened is irrelevant.

A common challenge that we all face when engaging with Aboriginal People is “Mistrust”. This is directly linked to our truth. I share how to overcome this challenge through the workshop. I share how I was able to overcome this challenge as a Native Title Lawyer working in the Kimberley region of WA, then in QLD. I also share my “lessons learnt” that are important for all workplaces.

Finally, you cannot get all of your Cultural Learning from one provider. We all have different knowledge to share, and it is important to recognise the diversity of Aboriginal Cultures within your Communities, sector, and workplace.

I offer both scheduled and in-house group sessions of my Cultural Foundations for Workplaces. This COVID19 environment has allowed me to shift to virtual or online delivery using either Zoom or Microsoft teams. A list of the scheduled sessions around Australia can be found on my website, https://aboriginalinsights.com.au/online-workshops/

If you are interested in an in-house group session, please contact me via jolleen@aboriginalinsights.com.au. It would be a pleasure to teach and share with your workplace.

Jolleen Hicks

Empower Yourself to Close the Gaps by Purchasing a Copy of this Book

One of the most important National Strategies is the National Closing the Gap Strategy that seeks to address the inequalties that exist within Australia between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians.