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How to explain NAIDOC Week to your 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...
Created on Oct 30, 2023 · 5 mins read
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The first Sunday of July kicks off NAIDOC week, an annual celebration of Indigenous 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. 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. When referring to the Indigenous community, we should use terms like First Nations Peoples or Indigenous Australians.

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. 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 2023 NAIDOC Theme?

Each year, NAIDOC reveals a central theme to the celebrations. This year, the theme is “For Our Elders.” It appreciates the role Elders have as leaders for the Indigenous community, nurturing generations with the knowledge, tools, values, and strength that has carried the world’s oldest living culture. They’re recognised because of the respect they’ve earned in the community and lead the conversation regarding broader issues affecting Indigenous Australians.

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. It’s a great opportunity to tune into Indigenous voices and sow the seeds of valuing Indigenous culture. Describe NAIDOC as 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 tell 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 “For Our Elders”, start talking to your kids about who Elders are in the Indigenous community and what their role is. Elders are teachers; they hold knowledge and insight that help guide their community. “My Deadly Boots,” by Carl Merrison, is a joyful picture book that focuses on the wisdom of Elders and the importance of connecting to culture and country.

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. 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 and value Indigenous voices.

Get Crafty

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

Another way to have open conversations about NAIDOC week is 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. Explain that for over a century, First Nations Peoples haven’t had their voice be 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 are 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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