25 June 2021
Working at Welcome to Country is always a rewarding and interesting experience, but occasionally something extraordinary comes across my desk. SharingStories Foundation was just that. A not-for-profit foundation, committed to awakening and sharing knowledge from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and the vision to ensure these communities are strong, to connect Indigenous young people to community and work together with all Australians to care for Country and culture.
To achieve this vision SharingStories works directly and intimately with Indigenous communities to “protect, maintain and grow language, stories and cultural heritage through digital technologies and vibrant artistic art forms for the benefit of all children today and future generations tomorrow.” You are probably wondering how this translates into the real world. Beyond the incredible cultural and linguistic documentation the foundation does, they also create Education Packages with partner communities designed to support culturally relevant learning for First Nations students, build culturally safe schools and ensure all students learn from authentic, community produced First Nations content .
The two components of the Education Packages are a series of bilingual interactive multi-touch books ‘Stories from Country’ and the Cultural Education Portal. The ‘Stories from Country’ bilingual interactive multi-touch books are filled with art work, animations, interactive maps, video, songs and language that creatively interpret important cultural knowledge from communities. The first series of the ‘Stories from Country’ Multi-Touch Books was released late last year and are available free to download on the Apple Book Store. Later this year a second series will be released produced in partnership with Aboriginal communities across Victoria. These books, supported by cirriculum mapped teacher resources, community cultural protocols documents and professional development webinars create the Cultural Education Portal. The Portal, co-designed with the foundation’s partner communities and using an innovative place based navigational interface to bed the knowledge shared in Country, is due for release in 2022. A subscription model for the Teacher Resources will generate revenue for partner communities and SharingStories to support ongoing community cultural continuity practices and population of the Cultural Education Portal.
This series of books and the SharingStories Foundation was born out of Liz Thompson, SharingStories Foundation Executive Officer’s, original collaboration with Indigenous communities. This collaboration began with Liz’s interactions with communities on a journalistic level, offering a platform for community’s voices to be heard and bring attention to issues, conversations and narratives. This involvement led to the creation of the original Sharing our Stories print book series, a community led project in which Elders from 14 Indigenous communities collaborated with Liz to create artwork and tell their stories in language.
From this series’ success the foundation was formed and its’ works have continued to grow and evolve over the years. Today SharingStories Foundation works with 17 language groups across Australia. The orgnisations facilitators run Digital Storytelling and Cultural Mapping Programs on Country. There are three key aspects to these programs. Firstly, interpretation of all aspects of the stories told/shared are directed by the community, everything from artwork, language, sound and cultural content are designed and driven by the community themselves. Secondly, intergenerational involvement is essential, Elders sharing, explaining and teaching the stories and language to young people. Lastly, the foundations’ facilitators engage the children in every aspect of production, from creation of artworks to sound engineering and GPS mapping. This process involves transferring vital skills in cultural recording to young people, in ways that support ongoing community cultural production. After these intensive programs SharingStories co-curates content with community and houses it in specially designed multi-touch books.
But culture and language are not static and over time these stories are revisited, and just like language and culture, they continue to evolve and grow. For example, ‘Woonyoomboo: The Night Heron’, a book produced in partnership with the Nyikina community, started as a print book of roughly 12 pages, and grew to become an 85 page bilingual interactive multi-touch book as more knowledge and story were collectively recalled and recorded during programs on Nyikina Country over nearly ten years.
This secondary effect of the work is the incredible language and cultural knowledge bases created and awakened in community. Wells of language and knowledge are often reclaimed as the process of travelling and teaching young people on Country, awakens sleeping words, songs and knowledge. As a result of SharingStories’ vision and values these deep pools of cultural knowledge are recorded with the Elders and creatively interpreted with young people in engaging, accessible formats that will serve to hold and transmit culture and language to present and future generations.
To learn more about SharingStories Foundation or download the free resources visit: www.sharingstoriesfoundation.org