Australia

At this school, Indigenous students are teaching classmates about their culture

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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students at a school in Sydney have been putting their teaching skills to the test during NAIDOC Week celebrations.

Hunting weapons, traditional tools and animal skins lay arranged on the oval of Briar Road Public school in Sydney's west.

A class of eager Year 6 boys watch on as their teachers prepare to show them how each instrument worked. 

But this isn't an ordinary lesson; their teachers are also their peers. 

Students Andrew Sampson and Zayden Lett.
Students Andrew Sampson and Zayden Lett.
SBS

Aboriginal student Zayden Lett calls the class to attention and proceeds to show his classmates how to throw a spear, the art of sending messages in the days before mobile phones, and the origins of the boomerang.

The workshops run as part of the school's NAIDOC Week celebrations, and it's a rare opportunity for Zayden to share his culture with his peers.

Forty per cent of the students at the school are of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent.

Students learning about traditional tools and weapons.
Students learning about traditional tools and weapons.
SBS

"NAIDOC week is my favourite because I learn about my culture, and kids learn about their culture, and it’s tradition,”  Zayden tells SBS News. 

“Normally teachers do this kind of stuff, but when an Aboriginal kid does this it’s more special for the kids." 

Normally teachers do this kind of stuff, but when an Aboriginal kid does this it’s more special for the kids.

- Zayden, Year 6

A student learning how to throw a boomerang.
SBS

In a classroom less than 200 metres away, girls from Years 3 to 6 six make bracelets using traditional weaving techniques. 

They use a combination of yellow, red and black coloured straw; the colours of the Aboriginal flag.

Gamilaroi student Natalya Hicks is helping to run the weaving workshop. 

She explains to the class how Aboriginal women used weaving to make baskets and sieves centuries ago. 

"It’s just fun sharing my culture and teaching other people,” Natalya said.

Students take part in a weaving workshop.
Students take part in a weaving workshop.
SBS

NAIDOC Week is held each July to celebrate the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The theme for 2019 is ‘Voice. Treaty. Truth.’

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Schools highlight Aboriginal history as part of NAIDOC week
Schools highlight Aboriginal history as part of NAIDOC week

To mark the occasion, Briar Road Public School has run dance workshops, a community dinner and sports competitions, as well as the student-led workshops.

"The meaning of it for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across Australia is immense, and it’s really important that we send the message that we value it," school principal Tammy Anderson says. 

Students learn to weave a bracelet.
Students learn to weave a bracelet.
SBS

Australia’s Indigenous history has increasingly been incorporated into the national school curriculum. 

Ms Anderson says she has seen significant strides towards meaningful inclusion of Indigenous culture in schools, in her 18 years of teaching.

“I think that we’ve come a long way in terms of what we do on a school scale, moving away from tokenistic behaviours, moving to really authentic teaching and learning, where students are gaining a greater appreciation, knowledge and skills in the area of Aboriginal culture and people,” she said.

Jason Sampson
Briar Road Public school Aboriginal curriculum culture teacher Jason Sampson.
SBS

The school's Aboriginal curriculum culture teacher Jason Sampson works alongside non-Indigenous staff to help them embed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture in classroom lessons year-round.

"We see the real benefits of making students feel a sense of belonging and if we can do that, through connecting them with their culture and strengthen their identity ... the relevance of schooling becomes much more deep and meaningful for them," he says. 

Briar Road Public school celebrates NAIDOC Week.
Briar Road Public school celebrates NAIDOC Week.
SBS

He is one of many in the Australian education system working to help the next generation of Indigenous Australians find their voice and know their truth. 

“We want them to make sure that they’re proud of their culture and that the knowledge that they have ... they can share that amongst their peers."

For more stories on NAIDOC celebrations around the country go to sbs.com.au/nitv/naidoc

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