Being seen and investing something of ourselves

Emerging Minds, Australia, 2019

Resource Summary

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that this resource may contain names of people who have passed away.

This resource is part of Emerging Minds’ Working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and children toolkit. Drawing on the expertise of First Nations consultants, practitioners and families, the toolkit explores ways non-Indigenous professionals and services can develop genuine partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities.

If I am working with a student who is struggling, and I need to talk to their family, it will take two or three visits, maybe more just to get to know them. I won’t talk about any requirements, I will just talk, get to know them – ‘so where are you from? How are your kids?’ I will tell them about myself and my family, who my connections are and what I like doing. It’s only after that relationship has been built that I will get down to the hard stuff.

- Aboriginal Educator

Building relationships is a core principle for any engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Like any relationship, it requires us to give something of ourselves in a two-way process. It will be very difficult to build relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities from behind a desk, a screen or a file. Connecting with Community wherever possible, through attending existing services or community events will give you the best opportunity to get to know Community and to be known.

For example, you could visit the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Service or the local Elders group. You could visit cultural centres and community events, and support colleagues who are running stalls or providing services. This will give you an opportunity to make yourself visible and available to learn.

Whilst Western ways of working can encourage us to ‘speak up’ and ‘have an answer’, instead you could sit in silence and listen more than you speak. This will demonstrate a genuine desire to learn from and support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community.

It is important to note that attending one or two events will not be enough. Truly demonstrating a desire to learn from and understand Community will take a commitment that is sustained over time.


Look and listen:

  • Attend: What events and activities could you attend where you have the opportunity to listen and learn from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people?
  • Support: What are the services and events you could attend and support colleagues as part of your role? How will you plan to do this?

Learn and reflect:

  • How did it feel when you participated in an event?
  • How was the planning? Were you nervous?
  • What did you learn from the experience?
  • What might you do differently next time?


  • As you build community connections, how are they shaping or informing your day-to-day practice? How is this affecting you as a practitioner?
  • Are you seeing changes in how people access your service or organisation? What changes are you seeing?
  • How can you incorporate community connection as an ongoing part of your role?


The preferred terminology used by Emerging Minds in our resources is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, as guided by our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social and Emotional Wellbeing National Consultancy Group.

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