How to explain NAIDOC week for kids - an age-specific guide

Lise Bosch

Lise Bosch

Lise is a South African-born and Aussie-raised creative working as Kiindred's in-house writer and editor. With a journalism degree and experience in the beauty industry, she has a passion for family and lifestyle content. On her days off, she’s finding the latest and greatest brunch spots and trying to work through the longest TBR list known to humankind. It’s a work in...
Updated on Jul 09, 2024 · 7 mins read
How to explain NAIDOC week for kids - an age-specific guide

The first Sunday of July kicks off NAIDOC week, an annual celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait culture and the excellent achievements that have happened in the community.

It’s a great chance to appreciate Indigenous art, customs and history with your kids and educate them. If you’re finding it an intimidating conversation to start, we hope this will help you brush up your knowledge of what NAIDOC week is and give you some pointers for teaching your kids about it.

So, how did NAIDOC Week start?

NAIDOC week was actually born out of protest when Australia Day protestors marched through Sydney streets in 1938. The Australian Aborigines League, founded by William Cooper, played a significant role in civil rights activism, organising protests and promoting Aboriginal culture and rights. It inspired a tradition known as the Day of Mourning, or Aborigines Day, which continued to be held annually on the Sunday before Australia Day from 1940 to 1955. A shift then happened to make the day a celebration of Aboriginal culture, not just a protest, which set the date to the first Sunday of July instead. This also sparked the formation of the National Aborigines Day Observance Committee (NADOC). The next couple of decades saw huge milestones for the Indigenous community, with the 1967 referendum and the Department of Aboriginal Affairs forming in 1972. Soon, NADOC became a week-long event and in 1991, it expanded to recognise Torres Strait Islander people to become the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Committee (NAIDOC).

It should be noted that the term “Aborigines” has been recognised as defunct but is still retained in the NAIDOC title for its historic relevance. We should use terms like First Nations Peoples or Indigenous Australians when referring to the Indigenous community.

Is NAIDOC Week different from Reconciliation Week?

With Reconciliation Week still fresh in the calendar from early June, it’s important we understand the distinction between the two. Reconciliation Week is focused on healing the relationship between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians, reflecting on our shared history and the mistreatment of Indigenous Australians. The Australian Government has played a significant role in historical decisions concerning Aboriginal rights, such as the formation of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs. It commemorates the successful 1967 referendum and the High Court Mabo decision as significant milestones for achieving reconciliation.

Whilst NAIDOC week started as a day of mourning, it’s evolved into a celebration of Indigenous culture and history. The event is stamped with the National NAIDOC Week Awards which acknowledges excellent achievements by Indigenous Australians, giving much-deserved recognition for trailblazers in the community. Local celebrations seek to showcase the richness of Indigenous culture and include art exhibitions, plays, flag-raising ceremonies, special speakers, and book readings.

What is the 2024 NAIDOC Theme?

Each year, NAIDOC reveals a central theme to the celebrations. This year, the theme is “Keep the fire burning! Blak, loud and proud.” It honours the persistent strength and vitality of First Nations culture in the face of every wave that crashes against it.

The fire symbol is described as representing a “connection to Country, to each other, and to the rich tapestry that define Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”

How do you teach kids about NAIDOC?

Knowing how to start up conversations around NAIDOC week with your kids can be intimidating. It’s a weighty topic that can be tricky to navigate with little ears. But it’s important to remember that NAIDOC week is a celebration. Consider engaging in NAIDOC Week activities such as art competitions, reading Dreamtime stories, and watching Indigenous Australian programming. It’s a great opportunity to tune into Indigenous voices and sow the seeds of valuing Indigenous culture. Describe NAIDOC as a special week for celebrating First Nations Peoples and all the things that make them unique.

Learn the country you’re on

The first place to learn about NAIDOC week is right where you are. Learn who the traditional owners are of the land you’re on and share the rich First Nations culture with your kids. This helps bring respect and awareness of the ongoing relationship between Indigenous Australians and their Country.

Chat about the theme

As this year’s theme is “Keep the Fire Burning! Blak, Loud & Proud,” talk to your child about how vibrant and alive Indigenous culture is to this day. Often, our conversations around First Nations Peoples look behind us. Whilst acknowledging and understanding the past (and it’s continuous implications) is essential, Indigenous culture is not of the past. It is still very much burning bright. By attending ceremonies, exhibitions, and celebrations – you can show them the endurance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Watch Indigenous content

Changing up your normal viewing to include Indigenous-focused content can grow your child’s curiosity about Indigenous culture and help them see the beauty of it. Consider including content that features Australian native animals as part of the educational experience. ABC iView has an entire page dedicated to NAIDOC week that’s brimming with shows such as special Play School episodes, Dreamtime stories and the award-winning Little J and Big Cuz series. These shows can present great talking points, and by turning to Indigenous creations, kids can learn how to listen to and value Indigenous voices.

Get crafty with NAIDOC Week activities

Creativity and art are integral to Indigenous culture, so go ahead and pull out some bright pens and paper. There are plenty of free Indigenous art colouring pages available online, or you can support an Indigenous artist by purchasing their work. While you’re doing them, the artwork could bring up some thoughtful conversations about the different animals, designs and messaging.

NAIDOC also has an official 2023 poster that has a colouring-in printout available on their website.

Check out local events

NAIDOC Week celebrations are a great way to have open conversations about NAIDOC week by getting involved with some of the local activities. Events range from art exhibitions and film screenings to smoking ceremonies and traditional performances. There are family fun days hosted nationwide, so head to the NAIDOC website to find out what’s popped up near you.

Talking to your preteen

If your child is a little older and ready for deeper conversations, it might be time to talk about how we need to be allies for the Indigenous community. The National Aboriginal and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) was formed to promote awareness and recognition of the history, culture, and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. Explain that for over a century, First Nations Peoples haven’t had their voice heard or valued, so it’s our responsibility to actively support them. If you share NAIDOC week‘s roots in protest, it can help them understand the importance of it.

What does being an ally mean?

An ally is someone who educates themselves, stands up for, and supports others. It’s often used when talking about being allies for marginalised groups such as the LGBTQIA+ community or racial minorities.

Your preteen can start being an ally by:

  • Listening to Indigenous voices and sharing what they learn with their friends.
  • Being curious about the history and culture of Indigenous Australians
  • Calling out inappropriate name-calling, prejudice or spreading of misinformation
  • Respectfully asking questions to learn more.

Remember that it’s okay if you don’t have the answers to everything. Each of us is still learning and growing our understanding of Indigenous culture and allyship, and there’s nothing wrong with researching an answer. Being an ally is being able to acknowledge that we’re not the experts, but we’re listening to those who are.

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