Indigenous Literacy Day

Image is courtesy of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation

Wednesday 6 September is Indigenous Literacy Day, a national celebration of Indigenous culture, stories, language and literacy.

The day is a project organised by the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF), which since 2011 has aimed to improve literacy levels in remote First Nations communities across Australia.[1]

Sadly, a quarter of Indigenous students in very remote areas are at the minimum reading standard, compared to 90% of non-Indigenous students.

When we think of literacy and education, we think of family. We think of our members of the family living under what was called ‘The Act’. We think of government legislation and policies of segregation and restriction. We think specifically of our mothers, aunties and uncles and the generations prior who were affected by laws that denied many First Nations peoples the opportunity of a proper education. We recall legislation and policies that impacted heavily on available opportunities and positive outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Queensland’s Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act 1897 created the position of a Protector of Aboriginals and in 1904, the Office of the Chief Protector of Aboriginals.[2] Also The Aboriginals Preservation and Protection Act 1939 made provisions for the appointment of a Director of Native Affairs who was “the legal guardian of every aboriginal child under 21”.[3]

Under such policies and pieces of legislation, the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were severely controlled and policed. Historically the intent behind the education of First Nations peoples was to erase culture and language and embed non-Indigenous belief systems and practices. These systems encompassed programs like the training of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to become domestics and farmhands. It was common for First Nations people to be removed far from their country and families, some from as young as 10, to undertake work that was often in slave-like conditions.[4]

Without even being able to finish primary school they were sent out to work because education was not a privilege afforded to Aboriginal children under ‘The Act’. In fact, it was rare for the children to reach a grade four or five level of education and obtaining a high-school education was almost non-existent. Today we see the very real consequences of never having obtained or completed a proper education. Not having the ability to read and write has had a profound impact as we see the lack of adequate Indigenous representation across every sector of society. We see the effects illustrated through there not being enough First Nations solicitors, legal professionals and judges to influence better legal and social justice outcomes.

To this day there is ongoing sorrow and resentment that resonates throughout the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. For this historical reason and for many contemporary issues that affect First Nations communities today, it is important to acknowledge and support programs and initiatives aimed at addressing the educational gap.

The ILF is a non-profit organisation whose focus is to bring attention to the disadvantages of remote First Nations communities and to raise funds and advocate for more equal access to literacy resources for remote communities. ILF raises funds for more than 250 remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and service communities across Australia, where only 36% of the population can access a library. ILF has delivered over 150,000 free and culturally appropriate books, and has published and funded over 44 community literacy projects, 11 of which have been published in first languages belonging to the respective First Nations groups.

Whether you are an individual, an organisation, or a business, you can help and participate in the day. Bring parity to the lives of Indigenous children across Australia and get involved by checking out the Indigenous Literacy Foundation’s webpage for more information.

Angelina Hurley (QLS RAP coordinator/First Nations engagement advisor) Anita Goon (QLS acting governance executive/RAP coordinator)

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[1] Indigenous Literacy Foundation. 2017. Indigenous Literacy Day. (ONLINE) Available at: http://www.indigenousliteracyfoundation.org.au/news-events/indigenous-literacy-day. (Accessed 4 September 2017).

[2] Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House. 2011. Documenting A Democracy — Aboriginals Protection and Restrictions of the Sale of Opium Act 1897 (QLD). (ONLINE) Available at: https://www.foundingdocs.gov.au/item-sdid-54.html. (Accessed 29 August 2017).

[3] Find and Connect. 2017. History and information about Australian orphanages children’s Homes and other institutions. (ONLINE) Available at: http://www.findandconnect.gov.au/ref/qld/biogs/QE00022b.htm#tab5. (Accessed 29 August 2017).

[4] SBS Ondemand (2016). Servant or Slave: Reshaping Australian history through a new lens. (Online Video). 25 November 2016. Available from: http://www.sbs.com.au/yourlangage/aboriginal/en/article/2016/11/23/servant-or-slave-reshaping-australian-history-through-new-lens. (Accessed: 29 August 2017).