This is the second in a series of posts which answers questions I’m often asked about what people can do to support Indigenous books (and by Indigenous books I mean books written or co-written by Indigenous people, not the books written about us). I use the term ‘Indigenous’ to encompass both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Implementing my suggestions will mean more work, and I’m sorry for that because I know how hard many teachers and librarians are already working. But I also know that a lot of you understand why this matters. Because you’ve seen what happens to those who cannot find stories that speak to their reality. Some of you have seen, too, what a difference it can make to an Indigenous child or teenager to be handed a book written by someone just like them. And you are more aware than anyone of the degree to which reading promotes empathy, and the way in which the worlds of all children and teenagers are made richer and larger by reading of cultures different to their own.
So here’s some thoughts on what can be done:
1. Assess what books you’ve got by Indigenous writers in your library. There’s an enormous range of books across all ages and genres – do you have them? If not, can you begin to build a collection? And as to where you can find them – the majority of books written by Aboriginal people are published by Indigenous publishers such as Magabala Books, IAD Press and Aboriginal Studies Press, with Magabala having the most children’s/YA publications of the three. So start with the Indigenous publishers, and move on to the terrific books published by other publishers from there.
2. Know the books yourself (and the best way to do this is to read them). Develop an understanding of the diversity of Indigenous literature which speaks in turn to the diversity of Indigenous experience, because your engagement with the books means you will be able to engage others.
3. Does your school have a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP)? If not, encourage it to develop one (and you can view examples of RAPs developed by other schools on the Reconciliation Australia website). If your school does have a RAP, then there are already objectives in place relating to relationships with Indigenous people, respect for Indigenous culture, and the creation of opportunity. Some of these objectives probably relate to books (for example many school RAPs include a goal of developing an Indigenous resources collection and/or the incorporation of Indigenous perspectives into curriculum). Is your school achieving these objectives? And how might books help you achieve other objectives in the RAP? Indigenous books are, by their nature, culturally respectful places where the creator is sharing their knowledge and experience on their own terms.
4. Be aware of how you approach Indigenous books. It sometimes happens that Indigenous books – indeed books by all diverse writers – are pigeonholed as ‘issues’ books, or as books that are only relevant to people from that particular group. Ellen Oh (one of the founders of the US-based We Need Diverse Books campaign) has written about this in relation to diversity more generally, and challenged parents, caretakers and educators to “take a hard look at themselves for internalised biases that may affect the way they look at children’s books.” Are the narratives you’ve unconsciously absorbed about Indigenous people affecting how you view Indigenous books, and how you talk about them?
5. Think about what you can do to draw attention to the books and incorporate them into student learning. There are some obvious opportunities for promoting Indigenous books in libraries and classrooms, for example during NAIDOC week or National Reconciliation Week. But what can be done outside of this to engage your students with the reality of a diverse world, including the stories of the First Peoples of Australia? And what resources are available to help you? For this, you could start with publisher websites. For example, both Magabala Books and Aboriginal Studies Press have education sections that contain teacher’s notes and links to other resources. Beyond that there is a massive range of online material available – here are just a few examples:
· The AIATSIS website for information on Indigenous peoples, histories and culture
· The Blackwords database, for information and resources about Indigenous writers
· Narragunnawali: Reconciliation in Schools and Early Learning for teacher resources and school-specific instructions on developing a RAP
· The ABC Splash website, which contains videos, games and resources mapped to the Australian curriculum (look at the topic ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures’)
· Online exhibitions, such as The Referendum Australia Had to Have, Ngurra Kuju Walyja (One Country One People): the Canning Stock Route Project, and Resistance
6. Join the conversation – or perhaps start it – with your colleagues. One of the outcomes of the We Need Diverse Books campaign in the US has been discussions amongst librarians and teachers reflecting on their practice and exchanging ideas. If your school or library has an initiative that’s worked, why not share it? If you’ve used an Indigenous book in your classroom, tell your colleagues about it. Raise up your voices – and share the books.