Understanding First Nations perspectives and building a Reconciliation Action Plan are two ways your organisation could demonstrate allyship to Indigenous employees.
Australia Day can be challenging for many in the Indigenous community, and some employers might be looking for ways to show their support.
Of course, allyship towards Indigenous employees needs to extend beyond a single day, but this is a good time to think about some of the long-term support mechanisms you could put in place to create a more inclusive environment for Indigenous employees.
Aunty Munya Andrews, an Aboriginal Elder of the Bardi people in Western Australia, recently discussed practical actions that organisations can take to demonstrate allyship, during an Evolve Communities webinar.
Aunty Munya spoke alongside Carla Rogers – both are co-directors of Evolve Communities, an organisation that provides reconciliation, allyship and cultural awareness training about Indigenous Australia to non-Indigenous Australians – on how organisations can support Indigenous employees and communities beyond Survival Day.
1. Learn about Traditional Owners
Step one involves doing your research and becoming immersed in the rich history and stories of Indigenous Australia.
If you’re looking to be an ally to First Nations Australians, it’s essential to learn whose country you’re working on, and learn a basic greeting in their local language, says Aunty Munya. This kind of information could be circulated across the organisation.
“I always ask people, do you know of any Indigenous names for Australia?” says Aunty Munya.
Carla, who is not Indigenous, says it originally hadn’t occurred to her that Australia might have been named prior to colonisation. She says learning these names, and how to pronounce them correctly, might be a good starting point for reflection by non-Indigenous allies.
2. Understand First Nations perspectives
Understanding the breadth of First Nations history compared to the relatively recent colonial presence in Australia is important when considering how to respond to Australia Day celebrations.
“Some Aboriginal people do celebrate Australia Day and that’s great,” says Aunty Munya. “That’s their choice. But we mustn’t forget that for a lot of people, it is considered an invasion day.”
“For many Australians, 26 January can’t be seen as anything other than a day of mourning,” she says
“I’m all for having a day of celebration of some kind for all of us,” says Carla. “But we need to reflect much more deeply on what it is we’re celebrating, and when we’re going to do that.”
3. Consider alternatives
Dates such as 1 January are proposed as alternatives to 26 January, and alternative names, such as Survival Day, are used by Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians alike.
Let’s say a company decides to do something different on Australia Day and takes a stand against celebrating on 26 January. What possible alternatives exist?
At an organisational level, this could mean providing an allowance for employees to take leave on a different day during the year. For example, floating public holidays allow employees to swap out a day that doesn’t suit them for one that does.
The process is the same as any other time an employee approaches their manager for leave approval. They put in the request and the change is then recorded on the employee’s timesheet so they can be paid correctly.
4. Share with colleagues and collaborate
Changing attitudes requires cooperation and communication. For truly effective action, this change needs to start at the top.
For non-Indigenous employees, Carla recommends elevating Indigenous voices and perspectives in the workplace, doing your homework, and owning and learning from mistakes, such as unintentionally saying something offensive.
At an organisational level, businesses have an opportunity to foster an environment where Indigenous issues are at the forefront of employees’ minds. Making an Acknowledgement of Country at the start of company meetings and events, for example, is a simple preliminary step towards greater recognition of Indigenous Australia within an organisation.
Aunty Munya also suggests that businesses work with Indigenous organisations, where possible. This can be an effective way of supporting Indigenous organisations, furthering your own knowledge of Indigenous issues and cultural expressions, and co-creating solutions to a problem together.
5. Build a Reconciliation Action Plan
Developing a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) is a great way for organisations to create long-term change by including reconciliation initiatives as part of their strategic planning.
There are different RAP types for organisations at different stages of the reconciliation journey. The Reflect level, for example, is for organisations that are newer to reconciliation, while the Innovate level is for organisations looking to take their efforts towards reconciliation a step further.
You can read HRM’s guide to creating a RAP here.
For day-to-day issues, you can read through Evolve Communities’ R3 Culture Model, which is designed to help when dealing with conflict and managing relationships in the workplace. The model provides three clear actions when presented with conflict: reflect on how the situation came to be, relate to where the other person is coming from and reconcile by cooperating with the other person towards a solution.
Tools like these provide an established framework for companies to follow, helping businesses to be an ally to Indigenous employees not only on 26 January but year-round.
Want to share some of the things your organisation is doing to support Indigenous employees? AHRI members can joined the AHRI LinkedIn Lounge to start the conversation or seek out advice from their HR peers.