“Do things with Aboriginal people not on behalf of Aboriginal people” – The power of Aboriginal-led engagement.

A sociologist and Cannings Purple’s Senior Consultant in Corporate Affairs, Jordin Payne specialises in strategic communications and relationships with the community and facilitated this event. She is a proud Nimanburr woman and traditional owner from Broome Western Australia with ancestral ties to Yawuru, Djugan, Nyul Nyul and Bardi groups on the Mid Dampier Peninsula.

At our first IAP2 core value event for 2019, the focus was squarely on the power of Aboriginal-led engagement. The sold-out event was hosted by corporate partner Cannings Purple with 85 people in attendance.

With an incredibly informative and moving Welcome to Country conducted by IES enviro-scapes owner, director and Whadjuk traditional owner Karen Jacobs, we learned the historical story and cultural practices that took place at the location of the event – Brookfield Tower 2. Karen talked about the pre-settlement area as the Whadjuk cultural hub and Aboriginal centre for trading, cultural exchange and matchmaking.

With the lead up to some significant dates and celebrations, the conversations were timely. Sorry Day and Reconciliation Week have progressed this week and NAIDOC week will be happening in just over a month.

“Ngalla waanginy” in Noongar language roughly translates to “we are speaking” and was provided by Whadjuk and Ballardong yorga (woman) Sharna Walley to reflect one of the key themes surrounding Reconciliation Week and NAIDOC this year – honest conversations.

Participants were introduced to an incredible case study demonstrating how genuine Aboriginal-led consultation has been a powerful instigator for truth-telling, healing and reconciliation.

The event team were encouraged by the popularity of the event, and we believe it speaks to two things. First, the appetite of our industry to ensure Aboriginal people lead engagement conversations regarding projects that occur on this land. Second, the eagerness of practitioners to collaborate and enable change within the organisations they work for – for Aboriginal people to be at the front of engagement activities and not included in a conversation when the project is almost complete.

Our IAP2 Australasia CEO Marion Short was in attendance and was pleased to contribute her voice to the event, making note of how much the conversations reminded her of similar talks happening in her New Zealand homeland.

The case study chosen to highlight the power of Aboriginal-led engagement was the Wadjemup Aboriginal Burial Grounds project. Wadjemup was used as a prison solely for Aboriginal men from 1838 to 1904.

Approximately 3,700 Aboriginal men and boys from across Western Australia were sent to the island over this period, over 373 of whom died during their incarceration and are buried in mass graves. While we call it Wadjemup, most know it as Rottnest Island.

It is important to note that these numbers do not capture the full effects of the spread of colonisation across the State nor the holistic impacts incarceration of Aboriginal men and boys had on Aboriginal people.

G Cole Consulting Managing Director Gordon Cole and UDLA Principal Greg Grabasch discussed the purpose of the State Wadjemup Aboriginal Burial Ground and the dialogue around how to respectfully negotiate an Aboriginal-led way forward to recognise the layered living heritage of Wadjemup.

Karen Jacobs and Reconciliation WA Co-Chair Carol Innes joined Gordon and Greg for a panel discussion following the case study presentation. And what a discussion it was! Leaving us with the memorable tag line provided by Karen Jacobs of “work with Aboriginal people not on behalf of Aboriginal people”.

Aboriginal voices led the way in asking questions such as how the panel maintains their wellbeing when undertaking work with culturally sensitive and emotionally charged projects, how to begin talks with Aboriginal Elders when you are not from the area or have internal support to allocate time to find out, and how to build cultural competency within an organisation that may rely solely on a single Aboriginal employee to provide cultural knowledge.

Discussions continued outside of the room and into workplaces. A huge thank you to all that contributed their efforts to make this event happen. It wouldn’t have been possible without the great teamwork and collaboration of the IAP2 WA working party and our corporate partner Cannings Purple.