How to respectfully approach January 26 at work
January 26 is more than just a public holiday for a lot of Australians. It’s a chance to recognise the long history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ custodianship of our country’s land and knowledge, celebrate the longest continuing culture on earth, and acknowledge the fact that this date may be one of mourning for many.
Reconciliation NSW puts it perfectly: ‘26 January is an opportunity to promote truth-telling, understanding, respect, healing and reconciliation.’
We turned to the peak body for advancing reconciliation in NSW to learn some key ways to acknowledge January 26 at work in a respectful way.
How much do you know about the history of Indigenous people in Australia? About colonial structures and attitudes, many of which are still prevalent today? It’s important to do your research so you form an informed and respectful approach to January 26.
You could look into the Country on which you live and work and find out more about the connection to traditional lands still firmly in place. Be curious! Listen to, learn from, and collaborate with your Indigenous colleagues to improve and diversify your workplace culture. Better yet, approach local Lands Councils, Elders and community members to discover their views on January 26 and what you can do develop a respectful approach.
Be an active ally
Speaking of being an ally, this is one of the most essential elements of respectfully approaching January 26 at work.
Allyship is important. First and foremost, it’s about being a source of support for your Indigenous colleagues. But active allyship is defined by calling out discrimination or prejudice even when it’s uncomfortable or inconvenient, or if you don’t think there are any Indigenous people around.
So if it’s safe to do so, respectfully challenge colleagues, policies, or structures if they are marginalising or exclusionary.
SBS’s NITV has some great tips on being a genuine ally. Read more here.
Consider holding celebratory events on a different day
Understand that January 26 is not a day of celebration for many Australians. If your workplace is planning a social or celebratory event on the public holiday, consider moving it to an alternate day.
If you are going ahead with events
- Invite Elders to take part, including through a Welcome to Country.
- Preference Indigenous voices, but urge all speakers to acknowledge the reality and history of the day. Indigenous people should not have the sole burden of educating others.
- Consider more solemn elements in your event, such as a minute of silence or flying the Indigenous flag at half-mast.
Spend the day at an Indigenous-led event
Why not spend your day off doing something that can actually make a difference? There are several Invasion Day or Survival Day events taking place across the country on January 26. Reconciliation NSW also regularly update their events calendar with a wide range of NSW-based events.
Better yet, invite some of your colleagues and friends along! We can all do our bit to carry those around us forward.
Whatever it is you choose to do this January 26, make sure that any action or allyship is not just based on a single day. We are all responsible for ensuring that any learning you do or support you provide extends much further than just a public holiday. Make your respectful approach to January 26 extend to the other 364 days as well.
Featured image courtesy of Amnesty International
Lily Cameron is a writer and editor based in Sydney. She is a UTS Communications (Creative Writing) graduate, and current Communications Assistant at UTS Careers. She is passionate about telling stories, both hers and others’, and the way digital and social media is changing the literary landscape. Her writing has appeared in Voiceworks, The Brag, and elsewhere.