Creating a yarning circle respectively and in collaboration with First Nations people
Category: News

Q&A with Adam Shipp, First Nations educator and Wiradjuri man

Yiradhu Marang (Good day, Wiradjuri)
To support the new series of First Nations perspectives learning activities, ‘Creating a yarning circle’, now available in the Junior Landcare Learning Centre. I have compiled answers to questions that arose during the live webinar to introduce these resources as well as other Frequently Asked Questions that occur with First Nations perspectives projects and how to carry them out in a manner that is respectful of First Nations people and our culture. Remember you can also explore the Junior Landcare First Nations Resources page for additional information, tips and guidelines. 
Goowayu (see you soon)
Adam Shipp

Q. How do I incorporate a yarning circle at my early years education centre?
This can be as simple as doing so within a circle space and reading a story (even better, this could be a First Nations story book) or learning Aboriginal symbols and then having a yarn with the children by asking them very basic questions about what they see. Try and listen to a response from each child in the circle to incorporate an element of the respectful speaking and listening element of yarning circles where each child has a chance to speak (even if very minimally) and other children listen. An activity of this nature only has to run for 5-10 minutes. Running this activity regularly and consistently will be the key to helping children understanding concepts such as listening, talking and sharing feedback in an informal setting. To maximise the informal nature of your yarning circle, try and create it in a natural setting; grassed or even sandy areas will allow children to sit or stand comfortably and barefoot. You can even get children to hold hands in the circle to keep them occupied if they become wriggly.

Q. Does group size matter for a yarning circle?
Group size does not matter. In fact, for best outcomes smaller group sizes are sometimes preferable and a yarning circle space can be utilised as an important way to engage children who may be less inclined to work well in larger class or group settings. A yarning circle can also be a great way to engage groups in learning support classes as an alternative setting to a classroom. You may discover, as an educator that you will find more engagement in such an environment and achieve greater learning outcomes, with your students more willing to communicate in this environment.

Q. How would you create a yarning circle from a home school perspective?
You can easily utilise a patch of ground in your backyard or at the local park to run yarning circle sessions with you children. Remember, yarning circles can be as simple as sitting down in a circle on the ground. You don’t have to build one! Further to this, if you’re connected in with other home school communities, you can look at coming together and running a session potentially with a First Nations provider. I have worked with home school groups in the past in the ACT. They have brought a number of family/student groups out on country and we came to an arrangement of a per-child price so that families can share the cost load. The greater the number of students, the better the outcome for the First Nations provider so tapping into the home schooling community for those type sessions is the key.

Q. How do we avoid cultural appropriation?
I feel the most important way to avoid cultural appropriation in the learning environment is by building two-way relationships with First Nations communities and service providers. Schools, early learning centres, Landcare and youth groups must recognise who and where the knowledge comes from and appreciate that a healthy relationship is one where both parties benefit.
This can be as simple as asking a First Nations provider/s to be involved in the whole process of creating a yarning circle, sharing knowledge around how to use the circle appropriately etc., and ensuring that the First Nations provider or community member is renumerated for their time. If, for example, a First Nations parent has volunteered their time to come and help, think of a gift or something else that the students can present to them for coming in and sharing their knowledge.
Also, actively seek First Nations service providers in the community where possible to come and visit your school/early learning centre etc. and run a session – this could be a Welcome and Smoking Ceremony, storytelling, dancing or any other cultural activity.

If a First Nations service provider or community member cannot be present, it can be as simple as the educator who is running the session in the yarning circle acknowledging where the knowledge and understanding comes from. For example, you could say: “Children, we are going to run a session in the yarning circle today. Remember when Uncle/Aunty came in and taught us how to run the talking stick activity? Let’s do that again.” Or: “Today we will read a story. This book is from the …. First Nations group.”

To find out how to carry out an Acknowledgment to Country respectively at your school, early learning centre or with your group, visit here.

Q. Should I pay First Nations providers who come to my school or early learning centre?
Yes, First Nations knowledge, expertise and time should be respected and appreciated when engaging them at your school, early learning centre or with your youth group. There are grants out there to assist if budget is an issue. Some of these include:

Don’t forget to visit the Junior Landcare Grants page regularly to see which grants are open as many cover First Nations perspectives activities, such as growing bush tucker gardens.

Q. There are lots of demands on First Nations providers’ time. What about cultural load? How do we respond as non-Indigenous practitioners?
This is an important point. Often you will find there are small numbers of providers with specific expertise. Their time is precious and patience is required on the educators’ behalf. Here are some tips for navigating this, ensuring you minimise impact on cultural load:

  • Pre-plan your activities and requirements in advance. First Nations service providers/ educators are often asked to attend an event the week before; sometimes even just the day before. To properly value their time and services, work with First Nations service providers early on in your planning and around appropriate dates that would be suitable for them. If this means you are not able to have them attend around dates that align with particular curriculum outcomes, consider booking in multiple session times with First Nations providers over the course of the year. See below.
  • Budget depending, look at booking in First Nations providers for multiple sessions. This will not only demonstrate ongoing commitment but also provide a more attractive proposition for First Nations service educators/providers as they can mark off time in their calendars well in advance (remember, this is about two-way relationship building); it also ensures children have a chance to build a better report with that educator/provider. Starting this conversation early with providers is a must to provide them plenty of notice.
  • Share the load. Depending on your location, you will likely find there will be multiple service providers with different expertise. It’s important to expose your students to different First Nations perspectives and knowledge so they gain an understanding of the greater picture. Sometimes it’s easy to rely on just one provider who may be reliable and provide a great service (this goes for any business, not just First Nations service providers); however, you may be surprised what you find if you expand your options and utilise as many providers as possible over a period of time. It’s always worth a yarn with each service provider as they will likely have a contact or know of other businesses and providers that can assist in different areas of expertise. You may need to look slightly outside of your area initially, depending where you are located; if so remember to renumerate any First Nations’ service providers for their travel costs if they are coming from further afield. Supporting First Nations businesses whilst achieving education outcomes should be viewed as money well spent.
  • Lastly, the more demand generated by schools, learning centres and Landcare groups to use First Nations services, the more likely First Nations people will see an opportunity to get involved and provide service as a business. This is capacity building – training and bringing more of our people and community in providing fresh and new perspectives and uplifting and empowering First Nations people to be involved and taking part in these opportunities.

To explore the First Nations perspectives series of learning activities on the Junior Landcare Learning Centre, click here.

Adam Shipp – First Nations Educator
Adam is a proud Wiradjuri man. His bloodlines through his father, extend across Dubbo, Parkes and other regions of Central West NSW. Adam was born and raised on Ngunnawal/Ngambri country Canberra. Adam has been working in the Environment/Natural Resource Management sector showcasing his love of culture since 2011. In January 2018, he established his own business, Yurbay, which means “seed” in Wiradjuri language. This exemplifies Adams deep passion for native plants, traditional Aboriginal plant use and his belief that, as a seed, his business and passion for sharing culture is “Always growing”.