Supporting Indigenous Literacy

Reading is something so many of us take for granted. Yet it’s hard to believe that only one in five children living in a remote Indigenous community can read or write to the accepted minimum level and less than 36% of people living in a remote community have access to a library.

Indigenous Literacy Day (ILD), celebrated this week, has given me a time to reflect on these uncomfortable realities as we all understand the importance of reading and writing. Something that had a particular impact on me was these comments by the 2011 David Uniapon Award winner, Dr Dylan Coleman:

Literacy today is one of the single most important tools in an Aboriginal child’s life, not just literacy in the English language but also literacy in our own Aboriginal language. Language is culture and when language is strong, culture is strong.

My grandmother Pearl Seidel (nee Coleman) was a fluent Kokatha (Gugada) speaking woman. She was proud of her Aboriginal heritage taught to her by her parents and grandparents on Kokatha country, and this language, culture and knowledge has been passed down through the generations, to my mother and her sisters and brothers, and onto me and my sisters and brothers. That strong spirit of survival, our language, and land is what keeps us connected and strong to whom we are as proud Kokatha people.

My novel Mazin Grace, that won the David Unaipon Award last year is my mother’s story of her childhood growing up on Koonibba Mission. It has been written in Aboriginal English and Kokatha to make sure our language survives despite the challenge it faces everyday out there in the broader community.

More stories should be spoken about and written in these ways, to ensure survival, to remember, and help us move towards a hopeful future proud of who we are as Aboriginal people.

Joy Woods & Rossi Finn from the NPY Women’s Council’s Child Nutrition Program incorporate reading into their program. 

I agree.  It is absolutely vital to improve literacy for our young ones, in their own language as well as English.  While it is encouraging to see that over 80 Indigenous languages are being taught in some 260 schools across Australia, it can’t end there.

The Indigenous Literacy Foundation works with remote Indigenous communities to supply books and literacy resources to women’s centres, crèches, schools, libraries, safe houses and art centres. This year $315,000 has already been donated to the Foundation and 1000,000 books have been supplied to 230 remote Indigenous communities.

If you would like to support the Foundation or learn more about their work please visit the Indigenous Literacy Foundation website. Here you can also sign up to the Foundation’s latest campaign – Get Caught Reading. The initiative provides a unique way for book lovers to contribute to the Foundation’s work by simply donating a small amount, then uploading a photo of yourself with your favourite book.

The RA team love to read!

Another great initiative to further support literacy across Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities is Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation’s Wall of Hands campaign. This year’s campaign focuses on improving literacy rates in Groote Eylandt, east of Arnhem Land. You can lend a hand too—sign up to support the program by visiting their website here.

These initiatives are great examples of reconciliation in action and I congratulate everyone out there in the community who has been involved.

Paul House with gum leaves and smoke
Paul Girrawah House

Paul Girrawah House has multiple First Nation ancestries from the South-East Canberra region, including the Ngambri-Ngurmal (Walgalu), Pajong (Gundungurra), Wallabollooa (Ngunnawal) and Erambie/Brungle (Wiradyuri) family groups.

Paul acknowledges his diverse First Nation history, he particularly identifies as a descendant of Onyong aka Jindoomang from Weereewaa (Lake George) and Henry ‘Black Harry’ Williams from Namadgi who were both multilingual, essentially Walgalu-Ngunnawal-Wiradjuri speaking warriors and Ngunnawal–Wallaballooa man William Lane aka ‘Billy the Bull’ - Murrjinille.

Paul was born at the old Canberra hospital in the centre of his ancestral country and strongly acknowledges his First Nation matriarch ancestors, in particular his mother Dr Aunty Matilda House-Williams and grandmother, Ms Pearl Simpson-Wedge.

Paul completed a Bachelor of Community Management from Macquarie University, and Graduate Certificate in Wiradjuri Language, Culture and Heritage and Management from CSU.

Paul provided the Welcome to Country for the 47th Opening of Federal Parliament in 2022. Paul is Board Director, Ngambri Local Aboriginal Land Council, Member Indigenous Reference Group, National Museum of Australia and Australian Government Voice Referendum Engagement Group.  

Paul works on country with the ANU, First Nations Portfolio as a Senior Community Engagement Officer

Acknowledgement of Country

Reconciliation Australia acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing  connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present. 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that this website contains images or names of people who have passed away.

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