Read on for information about ‘cultural load’, some practical ways you can minimise harm, and suggested resources, podcasts, books and other things to engage with this week and into the future.
NAIDOC stands for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee. Its origins can be traced back through the long history of Indigenous advocacy, activism and organising, including the emergence of several key Aboriginal associations and groups in the 1920s. National NAIDOC Week celebrations are held across Australia in the first week of July each year to celebrate and recognise the history, culture and achievements of the oldest, continuous living cultures on earth.
Following from NAIDOC week, we would like to share some practical ways you can engage in anti-racist action.
What is “cultural load”?
“Cultural load” refers to the invisible load knowingly or unknowingly placed on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to provide Indigenous knowledge, education and support.
Weeks such as NAIDOC can very easily create additional cultural load on First Nations people who are in high demand to organise events and educate non-Indigenous people about First Nations culture, rights, history and current affairs, particularly in the workplace.
The expectation placed on First Nations people in this context is sometimes referred to as the “invisible workload”, as it often happens without any formally agreed reduction or alteration to the BAU workload.
A 2020 survey by the Jumbunna Institute of Indigenous Education and Research and Diversity Council Australia indicates that 39% of Indigenous respondents carry the burden of high cultural load.
Outside of NAIDOC week, cultural load can be made worse by discourse surrounding political and social debates or events such as the upcoming Voice referendum. In your everyday practice, we urge you to be conscious of the cultural load placed on First Nations people, engage in harm minimisation and actively try to prevent cultural load by doing research in your own time.
Harm minimisation tactics
When talking about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities, there are a couple of practical things you can do to ensure that you are not contributing to, or compounding harm, trauma and distress, including:
Being conscious of cultural load: don’t go directly to First Nations people asking them to explain or educate. Instead, do the research in your own time.
Practicing cultural humility: commit to developing an awareness of how your own values, knowledge and attitudes are formed and affect others, and interrogate your own unconscious bias. Cultural humility is a lifelong process of learning, self-evaluation and self-reflection, as part of developing and maintaining reciprocal relationships with Indigenous peoples based on trust and respect.
Respecting diversity of perspectives: don’t expect First Nations people to fit into your own pre-existing worldview of what Indigenous people should think or do. We should not expect a universal consensus amongst Indigenous people just as we should not expect it of any other group of people. Be open to considering a range of alternate viewpoints. It is not your place to claim one view is more ‘authentic’ or valid than any others because you agree with one more than you do the other.
Committing to action: stand in solidarity with First Nations people and pursue structural change to combat power imbalances that occur within social interactions, institutions, and society itself.
Having meaningful conversations
Passing the Message Stick is a First Nations-led research project that seeks to transform the way we talk about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander justice. Many of the lessons learned from that project may be useful to you this NAIDOC Week and into the future, including:
Start the conversation by discussing shared values that resonate with your audience, such as equity, fairness, freedom, dignity, and community. For example, “We are better off when we are free to make the choices that are best for us. But today, the federal government decides who does and doesn’t get to choose the food they buy or the shops we can visit, based on the colour of our skin.”
Use a strengths-based approach when thinking about and discussing communities negatively affected by racism. This is a way of working that focuses on abilities, knowledge and capacities rather than deficits. ‘Deficit discourse’ refers to the patterns of thought, language or practice that represent people in terms of deficiencies or things that are lacking. Avoid deficit-based, homogenising language, such as: vulnerable, disadvantaged, living in poverty. For more information, explore this Summary Report on deficit discourse by the Lowitja Institute.
Avoid negation – don’t repeat the opponents’ message. Negation is when we say what something is not rather than explicitly stating what it is. Negating a particular mistruth often serves to reinforce it in the listener’s mind. Instead, we need to reframe the conversation and be clear about what we know.
Read more about how to embed these principles in your conversations in the Racism. It Stops With Me conversation guide.
You can learn more about the research underpinning these insights on the Passing the Message Stick website.
If you want to gain a better understanding of First Nations culture, rights, history and current affairs, we have suggested some resources for you to engage with:
Have you watched One Plus One – The Elders on ABC? Episode 1 is dedicated to a discussion with June Oscar AO - Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner. June recalls the rich history of Bunuba country, the important role of her mother and grandmother, and reflects upon different stages of her career and the role her Elders have played in shaping her life. Watch this episode on ABC iview.
Have you watched Incarceration Nation? A story of strength and resistance in the face of systemic racism, injustice and oppression, the film evidences the harms that prisons and over policing can inflict on individuals, families and the whole community. Incarceration Nation is an invitation for us to all to take action to create a better future. The first step, is to share the documentary with your friends and family. If you intend to do so, take a look at this practical Conversation Guide that accompanies the film.
Have you listened to Frontier War Stories? This podcast is a testament to First Nations acts of resistance.
Have you listened to TalkBlack? This podcast features truth-telling, black politics and protest.
IndigenousX Jobs Board
Looking for work? Need a new employee? IndigenousX jobs board is a great way to find and promote job opportunities. IndigenousX is a 100% Indigenous owned and operated media, consultancy, and training organisation.
IndigenousX believes in the principles of self-determination and works to effect change by upholding Indigenous knowledges, voices and ways of being.
Happy NAIDOC Week!
The Racism. It Stops With Me campaign team