Recognising outstanding reconciliation initiatives in education - Education Matters Magazine
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Recognising outstanding reconciliation initiatives in education

Reconciliation Australia’s Narragunnawali Awards celebrates the actions schools and early learning services take to establish meaningful and resourceful relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The Narragunnawali: Reconciliation in Education Awards is the only national awards program in Australia that recognises and celebrates educational environments implementing outstanding reconciliation initiatives.

Reconciliation Australia, in partnership with the BHP Foundation, holds the awards every two years.

General Manager Tessa Keenan says 2020 was an incredibly challenging for schools and early learning services.

“COVID-19 presented some barriers to things like developing and maintaining relationships and being out in the community. We’re excited to learn how schools thought outside the box to overcome these challenges to maintain relationships and their commitments to reconciliation,” Keenan says.

“Taking a moment to reflect on the reconciliation journey and celebrate achievements helps to support a shared sense of pride and unity within the school community.”

Covering schools across the Government, Catholic and independent sectors, finalists are acknowledged for the way they strengthen relationships, build respect, and provide meaningful opportunities in the classroom, around the school, and within the community.

The winners of each category will receive $10,000 in prize money, the opportunity to be part of a short film, a feature article in the Narragunnawali newsletter, and a commemorative trophy, all in recognition and support of the school’s reconciliation measures.

Award judges

This year’s judges—Geraldine Atkinson, Professor Peter Buckskin and Sharon Davis—have been involved since the first awards in 2017.

Keenan emphasises that Reconciliation Australia is very humbled to have the judging panel it does for the third awards running.

“Geraldine, Peter and Sharon individually and collectively have an incredible amount of knowledge and experience in education,” Keenan said. 

Geraldine Atkinson is a Bangerang/Wiradjuri woman, president of the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Incorporated (VAEAI), and advocate of early childhood education.  She has devoted her career to expanding the possibilities available to Koorie people through education and has always regarded education as being the best instrument of progress.

Professor Buckskin is a Narungga man from the Yorke Peninsula, South Australia. He has been passionate about the pursuit of educational excellence for Aboriginal people for more than 40 years. He is also the co-chair of Reconciliation South Australia and a fellow of the Australian College of Educators.

Sharon Davis, is a proud Aboriginal woman from the Bardi and Kija peoples of the Kimberley committed to enhancing the education experience for Aboriginal students, families and communities. She is the Director of Education at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, trustee of the Roberta Sykes Indigenous Education Foundation, and a member of the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership’s Advisory Group for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education.

Keenan explains that a key part of celebrating the achievements of the schools is sharing them with the broader community.

“When the judges visit the finalists of the Narragunnawali Awards, they will also be accompanied by a small film crew from Wirrim Media, who will be capturing these reconciliation stories, so that we can share them with all schools and early learning services across the country to hopefully encourage their next steps,” she says.

Previous Narragunnawali Award winners

2019 schools category winner, Maclean High School, located in northern New South Wales was commended for developing strong, longstanding and ongoing relationships with their local community.

As a result, the school has enabled respectful consultation and collaboration with local elders and the Aboriginal community to implement strong cross-curricula learning projects with a focus on local perspectives. Since winning the award, the school has developed digital resources for staff and students.

In the first year of the awards in 2017, Queanbeyan Public School was awarded for its display of deep and broad relationships with its community, and creating a palpable sense that Aboriginal and Torres Strait people, histories, and cultures are an integral part of the school and its environment.

Education leads reconciliation

The 2021 State of Reconciliation in Australia report, a landmark report produced by Reconciliation Australia every four years, shows that the role of education is a driving force in the reconciliation movement.

It shows that 80 per cent of Australians believe it is important for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures to be taught in schools and speaks directly to actions educators and educational institutions can be doing in this area.

In order to be eligible for the Narragunnawali Awards, schools and early learning services wishing to apply must have a published Narragunnawali RAP. Schools that haven’t yet started the process of developing a RAP, can do so at narragunnawali.org.au

Applications are now open until midnight on 30 April 2021.

Narragunnawali is a word from the language of the Ngunnawal people, traditional owners and custodians of the land and waterways of the area on which Reconciliation Australia’s Canberra office is located.

Keenan says the process of nominating a school or putting together an application is part of the celebration too.

“It’s an opportunity to reflect on acknowledge the hard work that goes into creating social and cultural change, implementing initiatives, maintaining relationships and building respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures and perspectives right across the school,” Keenan highlights.