Heal Country, heal our nation: NAIDOC Week 2021

Heal Country, heal our nation: NAIDOC Week 2021

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To celebrate NAIDOC Week 2021, we spoke to two people from the William Cooper Institute about this year’s theme ‘Heal Country, heal our nation’.

Georgia Lejeune

A group of Hardie Grant Media staff members recently participated in cultural safety training held by the William Cooper Institute at Monash University. The cultural safety training – delivered by the William Cooper Institute – provided an empowering environment to discuss and learn about best practice cultural safety in the workplace and the histories, languages, identities, cultures and politics of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

To celebrate NAIDOC Week 2021, we spoke with the director of the William Cooper Institute, Jamil Tye, and Indigenous student recruitment coordinator Allira Jones about the theme ‘Heal Country, heal our nation’ and what it means to them. 

NAIDOC week

Jamil Tye, director, William Cooper Institute 

Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Jamil Shadrach Tye. A proud Wollithica man of the Yorta Yorta. I’m the dad of two lovely young boys, Leo and Lenny, and very passionate Brisbane Lions fan. I am a Lions fan thanks to my Pa, who corrupted me at a young age to follow Fitzroy in the days when they didn't win a game. 

His uncles, and my family, such as Shadrach James and Doug Nicholls played for them, which is how he ended up a supporter. I am an alumnus of Monash University (x 2), having completed a Bachelor of Science and later a Master of Teaching. 

What is your role at the William Cooper Institute?  
I am the director of Indigenous Student Services and Programs at Monash University. I oversee the recruitment, retention and success of Indigenous students at Monash. We link our students with the Indigenous Academic Enhancement Program and support them throughout their studies. I also provide assistance to other areas of the university in relation to Indigenous engagement etc.

What does this year’s NAIDOC Week theme ‘Heal Country, heal our nation’ mean to you?  
It means ensuring that Aboriginal people lead decision-making on issues such as land management – my mind goes to Barmah and the Murray – to ensure that country is nurtured and preserved. 

This is especially important given we are currently faced with many large-scale challenges such as climate change and the continuation of urban sprawl, which has the ability to cause significant disruption. 

A thriving environment enables our cultural practices to remain strong, where they can be taught to the generations to come. For many years our knowledge, expertise, and connection were ignored, resulting in negative impacts to both country and community – we must ensure this is addressed moving forward.  
How can we be better allies to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and make workplaces culturally safe spaces?   
All workplaces should have a cultural safety framework – developed by an Indigenous person with relevant expertise. This would include things like mandating all staff at any workplace undertake cultural safety training – in-person and not online ideally. There are lots of ways to make workplaces more culturally safe, but this is a good first step.

Any great resources that you would encourage people to read up on?  
There are plenty of great resources around – my Yorta Yorta bias would probably suggest books like Thinking Black by Bain Atwood, which details letters sent by Uncle William Cooper (I am a descendant of his sister Ada), and my Great Grandfather Shadrach Livingstone James to the government of the day advocating for change. 

You can see the passion and determination come through in their writings – despite the fact that many of their requests were flagrantly dismissed. Them and others formed the Victorian Aborigines Progressive Association who were a pivotal voice in the first National Aboriginal and Islander Day of Observance Committee, which acknowledged the 150 years of white invasion. 

It later evolved into a week of celebration – NAIDOC Week. First Australians (by Rachel Perkins and Marcia Langton) is also a good book with a lot of important stories. Fighters and Singers – the lives of some Aboriginal women (White, Barwick & Meehan) – referred to me by Aunty Di Singh (nee Day-Walker) I also enjoyed. There are plenty. 

Allira Jones, Indigenous student recruitment coordinator, William Cooper Institute 

Tell us a little about yourself
My name is Allira Jones – proud Yorta Yorta woman from the Nicholls, Atkinson and Charles bloodlines. I am a direct descendent of long-term pioneer and fighter for Aboriginal women’s and children’s rights, Nanny Nora Charles (nee Nicholls). I was extremely fortunate to have been raised on country, across the Shepparton and Mooroopna region. 

I am a La Trobe University and Monash University alumnus, having completed a Bachelor of Psychological Science and a Graduate Diploma of Psychology Advanced. I am an introvert with a circle of friends, family and colleagues who light my fire daily, and I adore them tremendously for that. 

What is your role at the William Cooper Institute?  
I am passionate about education and creating a safe space for our mob in the higher education sector. This has led me to my current role. I engage with youth and promote the educational opportunities available at Monash University. 

What does this year’s NAIDOC Week theme ‘Heal Country, heal our nation’ mean to you?  
Given the issues surrounding climate change and the destruction of our waterways and bushlands, this year's theme is more important than ever. We need a healthy relationship with country in order to heal as people – it's a circular process. 

How will you be celebrating NAIDOC Week this year?  
I will be going back home to Yorta Yorta country to celebrate with my family. My sister (@dungalacreations) will be helping with a number of cultural workshops with Kaiela Arts Gallery in Shepparton.

How can we be better allies to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and make workplaces culturally safe spaces?   
Generally speaking, there are a number of destructive and racist biases across our so-called nation, so I think everyone should be actively working towards unlearning these. Workplaces should also be taking adequate action towards amplifying Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices. 

Any great resources that you would encourage people to read up on?  
My time is occupied with social media more than I would like to admit these days, but it has been a privilege to learn from leaders who articulate the history, triumphs and challenges of our people so powerfully. I encourage you to follow IndigenousX – it's a great resource. 

For more information about NAIDOC Week and how you can get involved, visit naidoc.org.au.

And check out what our sister company Hardie Grant Books is posting about for NAIDOC Week as they speak to First Nations authors and artists about the impact of storytelling on national heritage and future generations.⁠

Georgia Lejeune, managing editor at Hardie Grant Media

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