Kinship knowledge key to better interactions

Kerri Carr

Lynette Riley: Mainstream social practices are not appropriate when dealing with Aboriginal people

Teachers can use free online resources developed by Sydney University to better inform their relations with Aboriginal people and to introduce their students to Aboriginal Kinship systems.

The learning materials aim to enhance people’s knowledge of Aboriginal culture to improve their cultural awareness and interactions with Aboriginal people.

The Kinship Learning Module consists of eight short videos that briefly explain different aspects of Aboriginal Kinship structures. Topics addressed in those videos are further explored in 24 community narrative videos in which Aboriginal people talk about personal experiences when limited understanding of culture and Kinship led to miscommunication and inappropriate services for Aboriginal people.

“What these people [in the community narrative videos] are talking about is where non-understanding of Aboriginal people and their culture went wrong in various public service sectors — law, health, education — and what it is they’re doing to try and make people have a better understanding,” Education, Aboriginal Education, Indigenous Education and Aboriginal Studies academic leader Lynette Riley said.

Mainstream social practices are not appropriate when dealing with Aboriginal people.

“Quite often when a policy or strategy is being developed in working with Aboriginal people it’s a one-size-fits-all approach. What you need to do is take that policy or practice and align it to the local Nation, Clan and community groups,” Ms Riley says in a video.

“The mishaps and problems that can occur from not understanding the relationships in a Kinship system are that you will be trying to force the wrong people to work together, so it’s really about talking to Aboriginal people about getting them to help you navigate through that system .”

Viewers learn that Aboriginal Kinship systems oblige Aboriginal people to take responsibility for people beyond their immediate family (their extended family), so teachers need to consider this with their Aboriginal students.

“In a school situation where a teacher is talking to the parents, they want a decision straight away; it’s not going to work for Aboriginal people. They actually need time to go back and talk to [extended family with Kinship connections and obligations] and explain what the issues are and then come to a group consensus as to the best way forward. If you don’t build into the consultation process strategies that allow Aboriginal people to take stock of the Kinship issues then it means that you’re putting them in jeopardy of breaking ties and creating barriers within their wider family network,” Ms Riley says.

Ms Riley recommends additional learning. The Kinship Module Teaching and Learning Framework, part of the resources, states: “Specific and in-depth knowledge must be gained from traditional knowledge holders within various Aboriginal Nations and Clan groups.”

The Kinship Learning Module videos and community narratives videos can be accessed for free by clicking here. Ms Riley said the materials could be used to teach staff, school kids beyond year 5 and TAFE students.

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