Attend local Indigenous-led events
There’s a lot of pressure on Indigenous people to engage with non-Indigenous communities on their terms. For example, Indigenous people are often requested to conduct Welcome to Country at non-Indigenous events. The one-sided nature of this engagement can become draining for Indigenous people.
Attending a local Indigenous led event is an opportunity to reciprocate the engagement and can lead to more mutual relationship in the future. Indigenous led events provide opportunities to meet local people and learn about local culture and history on Indigenous people's terms. Supporting and attending these events shows that you’re invested in what’s important to Indigenous people. Indigenous led events are sometimes advertised on your local Council website, local paper or local Indigenous Facebook pages.
Visit local Indigenous organisations
Find out if there's a local Indigenous organisation in your region (search online or ask your local council). Local Indigenous organisations will likely have information about local history and culture, as well as contacts for Welcome to Country, cultural consultants and suggestions of ways you could partner together in the future.
Invite a local Indigenous representative to speak at your organisation or next event
You may pay for a local Indigenous community member to come and deliver a talk or workshop. This could take many forms depending on the context, for example, cultural training for staff, an assembly presentation for students or a segment of a church service. If you're interested in this option, be aware of cultural responsibilities (see below).
There are hundreds of distinct Indigenous groups in Australia with unique cultures, languages and beliefs. There's significant variation between, and even within, Indigenous communities. Every community will have some similarities, but there might also be different customs, ways of communicating and sensitive issues. It’s important to be aware that one Indigenous person may not necessarily be the sole voice for the whole community in which they live.
Who is an Elder?
An Indigenous Elder is someone recognised within their community as a custodian of cultural knowledge and law. A recognised Indigenous community leader could also gain Elder status within their community. In some instances, Indigenous people above a certain age will refer to themselves as Elders. However, age isn’t a prerequisite, and doesn’t automatically make someone an Elder. The important thing is that the community recognises the individual as an Elder.
The best way to find out if someone is an Elder is to ask them politely, or learn from members of the Elder’s Indigenous community. Some Indigenous Elders are given the title Uncle or Aunty. This title is generally bestowed on someone by their community. Some Elders may choose to use the title publicly, others might reserve the title for those they have a personal connection with. It’s best practice to ask an Elder if they wish to be referred to as Uncle or Aunty before adopting these titles.
Who is a Traditional Owner or Custodian?
The term ‘Traditional Owner’ is used to refer to an Indigenous person who’s directly descended from the original Indigenous occupants of a culturally defined area, and is culturally connected to their Country.
Some people prefer the term ‘Custodian’ over ‘Owner’, as it’s more reflective of the role of Indigenous people in caring for the land rather than ‘owning’ it in the western sense. This can be a sensitive topic, as gaining or being denied recognition as a Traditional Owner/Custodian can cause tension within and between Indigenous groups and families.
The term Traditional Owner seeks to fit Indigenous systems (of landcare, kinship and governance) into a framework that’s more easily recognised and understood by non-Indigenous people, i.e. land ownership. Whilst these terms are widely used, understood and accepted, a preferable alternative is to replace the word ‘Traditional’ with the name of the relevant specific people group, such as ‘Wurundjeri Custodian’.
Be aware of cultural responsibilities
Indigenous Elders carry many responsibilities, within both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. When engaging with Indigenous people in your region, be respectful of the many demands on their time and try to avoid adding unnecessary pressure.
Take it slow
It can take significant time to build up trust and respect within an Indigenous community. What's important to you may not be as important to the people you're working alongside. Short term approaches to engagement often result in pain. Indigenous people should dictate the pace of any engagement.
For more information and guidelines to using appropriate language, download our Cultural Terminology Guidelines.