Working with Aboriginal communities

The Family Action Centre recently received 30 months funding from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation.

The Nar-un-bah and Thou Walla Engaging Aboriginal Fathers Project will enhance the capacity of Aboriginal men who have current or future parenting responsibilities (e.g., fathers, pops, and uncles). The project will engage Aboriginal men in a range of local informal and formal healing activities, events, and workshops with a focus on reconnecting to culture and the role of fathers in growing their children strong. The project will combine the grass-roots work of Nar-un-bah School as Community Centre (West Lake Macquarie) and Thou Walla School as Community Centre (Raymond Terrace), the knowledge and experience of their local Aboriginal communities, and mentoring and support from the Family Action Centre. The project will foster trusting relationships to connect with, engage and build on the strengths and interests of Aboriginal men to help heal some of the damaging intergenerational impacts that invasion and colonisation have had on their role, knowledge, confidence and skill in parenting.

I will be the Team Leader responsible for the project and will also be assisting with the action research association with the project. Bourkie (Craig Hammond) is the project coordinator and we are currently looking for a full-time project worker.

The Healing Foundation focuses on

  • Capacity Building – identifying and supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander healing initiatives, at the community level and in response to community needs, by providing funding and capacity development;
  • Healing Promotion, Education and Training – facilitating the promotion and education of healing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their communities, including skills training in the prevention and treatment of trauma, and fostering a supportive public environment for healing;
  • Research & Evaluation – contributing to an evidence base for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander healing through community-driven and culturally-appropriate research and evaluation.

It has identified four principles for its healing work:

  1. Addressing the causes of community dysfunction, not its symptoms.
  2. Ensuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ownership, definition, design and evaluation of healing initiatives.
  3. Adopting an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander worldviews, not western health understandings alone.
  4. Working from  strength-based approaches.

Given these principles, I’m a bit nervous about the best way for me to support the project. The first and last principles are fine. It is the middle two that will be more challenging. Our project essentially involves three non-Aboriginal services (each committed to working with local Aboriginal communities) working in partnership. While we will have an Aboriginal coordinator and project worker, and will work with Aboriginal organisations, we will need to focus on ensuring that the project is truly led by Aboriginal people and that we don’t rely solely on a Western world view.

At the first meeting the Schools as Community Centres (SSACs) Coordinators, Bourkie and I, we were fortunate to be joined by two local Aboriginal people who added depth to our discussion. The focus of our conversation was how to establish a reference gorup for the project and how to ensure it was Aboriginal led.   We discussed who should be on the reference group and how we would select them. We are working in two communities (West Lake Macquarie and Raymond Terrace) so we want to ensure we have representation from both communities. When the reference group is established we will ask them whether they think we should have two reference groups or one. We think the two SSAC coordinators and I need to be on the reference group but that the rest of the committee should be Aboriginal members.

Even selecting the reference group raises questions, particularly around who should select them? We want to ensure that there is at least one elder, a woman and fathers. Particular the elders are often called on for many events or committees and/or are getting older and possibly in poor health. Of course, not all Aboriginal people are automatically suited for such a role and so some judgement needs to be made about who would be the most suitable. The feedback we received from the Aboriginal people at our meeting was that it should be Bourkie who selects them.

We are currently looking for an Aboriginal project worker and we have tried to make the application process as easy as possible. We are part of the Uni and so have to adhere to their HR policies and procedures. Fortunately the Uni has been quite flexible. To apply we have asked applicants to:

Please ring Craig or Graeme to express your interest and email them a brief resume and a one to two page statement about why you think you would be suitable for the job. In this statement you should discuss:

  1. Your experience working with Aboriginal communities
  2. Your experience working with Aboriginal fathers
  3. Any experience you have had running groups
  4. Anything else you think is relevant.

You should also confirm that you are an Aboriginal man, that you have a current driver’s licence and that you are sometimes able to work after hours and on the weekend.

Please don’t hesitate to contact Craig or Graeme if you have any questions. It is more important to us that the successful applicant is skilled in working with Aboriginal fathers than filling out paper work.

The selection criteria are:

  1. It is a requirement of this position that the successful applicant is an Aboriginal man. Aboriginality is a genuine occupational qualification and is authorised under Section 14 and 31 of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act 1977
  2. Demonstrated experience and skill in working with Aboriginal communities, in particular to facilitate the engagement of Aboriginal fathers
  3. Demonstrated ability to facilitate groups
  4. Well developed organisational skills
  5. Excellent oral communication skills with a demonstrated ability to communicate effectively with a wide range of people
  6. Ability to write action plans, brief project reports and other written documents
  7. Completion of an associate diploma and at least 2 years subsequent relevant work experience in community welfare or related discipline; or an equivalent combination of relevant experience and/or education/training; or completion of a degree without subsequent relevant work experience; or completion of a post-trades certificate or advanced certificate and extensive relevant experience as a technician.
  8. Ability to undertake some after hours and weekend work
  9. Ability to work as a member of a team
  10. Current driver’s licence
  11. Understanding of the University’s policies and procedures on Equity and Diversity, Managing for Performance and Occupational Health and Safety

It is a pretty long list but we want to give an indication of what we are looking for. We needed to include criteria 7 and weren’t allowed to change the wording, but we were able to change the order. The interview panel will consist of two Aboriginal reps (Bourkie and a community rep) and two non-Aboriginal reps (me and one of the SSAC coordinators). It could be a bit daunting to have four people on the interview panel but we will try to make it as informal as possible and maybe hold the interviews at an Aboriginal organisation. We have to decide whether the reference group should have a say in the final decision.

The other things I’m going to do to try to ensure the project meets the four Healing Foundation principles include:

  1. Discuss with Bourkie and the project worker what support they need to ensure it is Aboriginal led.
  2. Adopt a listening role on the reference group.
  3. Work with the team and the reference group to reflect on our process and what we are learning
  4. Keep reflecting on my role and keep challenging myself about how I work.

I’m soon going to a three-day gathering of all the successful healing foundation recipients. It really is an exciting opportunity.

About Graeme Stuart

Lecturer (Family Action Centre, Newcastle Uni), blogger (Sustaining Community), environmentalist, Alternatives to Violence Project facilitator, father. Passionate about families, community development, peace & sustainability.
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