The power in our stories
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 124 No 1, 15 February 2019, page no. 21
In term four 2019, Central Queensland activist and Gandu Jarjum member Rachel Bos was appointed Recruitment Officer – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Membership Growth. The purpose of the project, which aligned with the strategic work of regional Organisers and Area Councils on growing the QTU’s membership, was to recruit Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers or to connect with existing members who may not have yet identified as being Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander to invite them to do so. These are Rachel’s reflections on the project.
Relationships are critical to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; they underpin our actions and our responses. Telling our stories, our truth, and being seen culturally has opened the floodgates, with an overwhelming member response to the project. I have been gifted with stories that have elated me, that have angered me and also torn deeply at my heart. Our members are strong and proud, accomplished and dedicated, but also lonely and conditioned, operating in spaces that do not afford them a culturally safe workspace. There is so much work to be done to make our members feel safe enough to tell their stories within this organisation.
The decision to identify in any “formal” organisation is deeply personal. For many members I've spoken to, it is not as easy as simply ticking a box on a form. I have shared my own personal story many times, and in some cases it has taken many conversations and recognition of connections before a member has requested to be identified with the QTU. I have recruited new members who have only joined because this position has made them see that the QTU is committed to reconciliation and is not “a space for white fellas”.
The member response to this position was immense. I sent out an introductory email, telling a little of my story and what the aims of the project were. I received 68 direct email replies. Many stories, introductions and words of encouragement were sent to me. Our members are thirsty to be connected with someone who “sees” them and interacts with them as an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person.
Part of this project has required engaging with early career teachers in a culturally appropriate way, ensuring that their voices and needs are being addressed and, in turn, growing activism in their communities. There is an absolute need to create a network of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers, many of whom are taking positions off country for the first time. This work is vital in creating a powerful reason to join, and be actively involved, in the QTU.
Equally important is listening to and recording the stories of experienced teachers, who provide a unique perspective into the needs of our mob as they near retirement. Creating community agency connections to ensure that these members are offered support in their dealings with government and other institutions is a vital next step in support for our members.
This project has enabled the QTU to map the density of its identified members, uncovering that the SE corner has an absolute need to develop a culturally appropriate network of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educators. There is more work to be done in Central Queensland, Townsville and Mt Isa regions.