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Saturday, July 11, 2015

What literary festivals, conferences and events can do to support Indigenous books - guest post by Ambelin Kwaymullina

This is part of a series of posts that answers questions I’m often asked about what can be done to support Indigenous books (by which I mean, books written or co-written by Indigenous people).

1.     Invite Indigenous authors. Ideally, invite more than one (and invite other authors from other diverse backgrounds too). One of the reasons there is a lack of awareness of the sheer range and complexity of the Indigenous experience is that there is rarely more than one Indigenous writer or illustrator present at any given festival or conference. So does your festival represent the reality of a diverse Australia with a rich and ancient Indigenous history and culture?

2.      Is your festival/conference/event a culturally safe space? There are a number of ingredients that go into creating a space where everyone’s identity is acknowledged and respected  – but here are some things to think about:

a.     Have a Welcome to Country and/or acknowledgement of Country – and for the difference between the two, see the Reconciliation Australia factsheet.
b.     Designate a contact person who can provide support if any of your authors experience instances of discrimination at your festival.
c.      Communicate the value your event places on cultural safety to all participants and attendees – and communicate why it matters. The provision of a place where all voices can be heard is not some version of political correctness; it is a matter of basic fairness in which all peoples have an interest, and especially those with an interest in books. Because if you can’t hear the voices, you can’t hear the stories.
d.     Think about your location. One of the legacies of colonial history is that Indigenous experience of colonialism tend to be far less well known that those of non-Indigenous people. This means organisers can sometimes hold events in places that mean they are unlikely to get many Indigenous participants or attendees, because the geographic location is a place of unresolved trauma.

3.     Acknowledge Indigenous peoples as the most expert sources of our own cultures and experiences, just as others from diverse backgrounds are the most expert sources of their own cultures and experiences. Reverse the operation of privilege by giving space to the insider voices and the insider stories – and enrich your program with the stories of those for whom the cultures, histories and ongoing struggles with discrimination are lived realities.  

4.     Establish a dialogue with presenters before the program is finalised. It can be easy for a program organiser to unconsciously make assumptions about what Indigenous stories are, how they should be talked about and what Indigenous people wish to speak to (and the same is true of assumptions about authors from other diverse backgrounds). Are there issues that a presenter would particularly like to address? Is the title and topic of the session or panel culturally appropriate?

5.     Moderators matter. It is no easy task to be the moderator of a panel – and it is a more difficult task when dealing with sensitive issues or cultural histories. Moderators already work hard, but anyone moderating a panel dealing with sensitive issues has to be willing to work even harder to prepare for their session.

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