David Beaumont: How Can We Respectfully and Genuinely Support First Nations communities?
Acknowledgement of Country: This interview was conducted on Gadigal Country. We pay our respects to the traditional custodians of this land, past, present and emerging. We recognise their deep connection to the land and their unique cultural heritage, which continues to enrich our shared community.
David Beaumont is a Wiradjuri man from Wellington, Central West NSW, born on the Block, Redfern Gadigal Country and raised in Sydney. David is the Senior Community Engagement Coordinator (Aboriginal Community Development), Indigenous Leadership and Engagement Team at the City of Sydney. In his role, David helps guide the City of Sydney’s vision and direction on Indigenous strategies, including the City’s lead Indigenous Strategy, Eora Journey and Reconciliation commitments.
In this interview, we asked David how non-Indigenous people can learn from and support First Nations communities. David shared his insights from learning with Elders, including his friend and mentor, Uncle Phil Bligh. He also discussed the importance of genuinely unlearning in order to better understand before undertaking, and co-creating a more inclusive and respectful future with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples that values the relationship and benefits them .
David’s acknowledgement of Elders and Country
First, I'll do a small acknowledgement. I acknowledge we're on Gadigal country during this interview. It's where I was born. I'm a Wiradjuri man from Wellington, Central West NSW. I acknowledge my Elders, past and present from both these areas, but also around Country. My acknowledgement extends to the sacrifices our Elders made and the paths they've forged in keeping our cultures and communities alive and well in the face of extreme adversity. I also acknowledge our innate systems of working together with one another, with our environment and our lore. Do no harm and take only what you need, subsistence.
At the City of Sydney, our team works together to evolve the organisation to meet our community, culture, values, ideology and spirituality where we're at. We come with our cultural contract. We strive to embed these systems in a large organisation like the City of Sydney—not retrofit them.
I know you interviewed Uncle Phil and I may double up on a few of his pearls of wisdom. One of them is that I'm born with a responsibility, which is the carriage of my culture. I call this my cultural contract. We do our best to understand before we undertake. I aspire for true meaning, not just meaning to be true.
What's Indigenous learning, and how can we learn?
Indigenous learning is, the more we know, the more we don't know. It compels us to open our minds from one dimensional thinking to multi- dimensional capabilities. It keeps us humble, honest and engaged.
I draw on the example of Indigenous writer, filmmaker, musician and consultant, Victor Steffensen. When he was invited to accept an honorary doctorate for his work in firestick farming, he said, he’d only accept if you provide the same acknowledgment and recognition for the Elders who taught me.
Another example is Aunty Frances Bodkin, who has done profound work around Aboriginal cultural calendars, particularly in our region. We all know January to December, the Gregorian calendar. A lot of us also orientate to the financial year calendar, school calendars and religious calendars. But when we step back and look at the beautiful living environment, it's our cultural calendars that continue to share her unique signature and stories of place. The whales migrate heading north from June to September. Black cockatoos return to feeding grounds in the cooler months. Mother Nature is the greatest storyteller of all. Our living cultures are a direct reflection of her.
But how do we learn? There needs to be a question back, why do you want to learn?
In order to learn about Indigenous knowledge and wisdom, there needs to be an admission: everything that has been done and imposed on First Nations people and this land, has led to a catastrophic disaster. The treatment of First Nations People, this land and environment has been completely decimated since invasion. We come from tens of thousands of generations of wisdom, but it has been demonised, deconstructed, denied and continually dismissed by one dimensional people propagating one dimensional antiquated and outdated European system of farming from a completely different hemisphere.
Western education is linear, siloed and one dimensional. It conflates people's egos. People have a sense of self-righteousness and entitlement when they pay for seven or nine years of studies. They end up with a few degrees. They get paid to research us, and they say they're working with us. But are they really? Are they willing to give up their research grants? Are they going to vote yes for our voice in this constitution?
As Uncle Phil suggests, if we focus on repairing relationships, anything is possible. But that needs to be done with humility, modesty and contrition. Colonisation has led to erosion, corrosion and control, it has dismissed, denied and destructed our systems of thinking, being and doing.
The challenge is to centre our voice. This means creating space for First Nations people to be in the room and heard, see the value and evolve systems to meet First Nations people where they are at. Not prescribe something to them.
How can we best articulate our intent to learn as non-Indigenous persons?
Language is important. Isn't it interesting that one group of people landed here and said to another group, you can't speak your language that you made up? You now have to talk the language we couldn’t make up. The English language is made up of many different languages and dialects.
We need to understand the importance of words, the choices of words and where they need to land within a sentence.
I'll give you an example. Many years ago, there was a group working on the Community Wealth Building model. I gently said, that sounds like a bank ad to me. So I offered an option for discussion. And that is, communities building wealth. It's the same three words, but it's so much more inviting for me as an Indigenous person.
Sometimes people say, Dave, we need to do more. And I suggest, no, you don't do more of the same. We need to do better.
Less ambiguity is better. When we are discerning with language, our intent is pure. Our words become the beacon and enabler to achieve better.
How can we unlearn?
I've often seen people ask with the best intention, how do we protect Aboriginal culture? I say, well, you protect the people. You protect the voice of the people.
Our culture is a confluence of all things, a sacred geometry if you will. It’s the combination of all living things—wisdom, ideology, knowledge, values, mythology, spirituality . So how can Western culture meet us where we're at?
Let's look at cause and effect. We know what the effect is, just look at the treatment of our environment and First nations people. We know the causes. How do we affect a cause?
As a rule of thumb I use, it's not what I see and hear. It's what I don't see and hear. That's where the work so often is.
Two words I want to share with you:
'Par': comes from the Latin term meaning equal;
'Pro': comes from the Latin term meaning forward.
People often say, I'm here to help build capability and capacity for Aboriginal people. That's good. But what's great is I'm here to help this organisation, build its capability and capacity with Aboriginal people. Almost the same sentence, but it shifts from platitude to attitude.
Ask where the partnership and relationship stand: we're both committed to working towards a future of, equality and justice for the environment and First Nations people.
What does the future look like?
Aboriginal culture is a descriptive culture. Instead of a Western prescribed approach, let’s work together to describe what our future looks like, and work back from there?
Look at some of the most amazing people who envisioned and imagined beyond their current situation or circumstance—John Lennon, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mother Teresa, and so on. Listen to John Lennon's song, Imagine. We all have an invitation to aspire to become the greatest expression of ourselves. I'd like to invite people to explore what that looks like.
If we want to coexist, we have to co-create. But first, we must confront reality and understand what we have done in the past has been wrong.
To me, it's us having the humility, modesty and contrition to work better together in order to co-create. If we want to coexist, we have to co-create. But first, we must confront reality and understand what we have done in the past has been wrong. It’s discriminatory and detrimental to one another and to mother nature. We have the humility to recognise what currently exists is not sustainable.
Take climate change as an example. People talk about how bad carbon is. But the reality is carbon is an important natural part of the environment. It's not inherently bad. We need to mitigate how much we pump into our environment.
At one of the Sydney City talks on making Australia a renewable energy superpower, we saw Rowan Foley, CEO of the Aboriginal Carbon Foundation speak. Chris Bowen, the Minister for Climate Change and Energy was sharing the panel with him and others.
Rowan Foley suggested to Chris Bowen, you can do better to support Australian and Indigenous owned and operated carbon offsets. There's an opportunity to empower the First Nations communities to manage our lands in our way and provide sustainable jobs. Yet, it’s cheaper for corporations to purchase dodgy carbon offsets in other countries.
So he said, protect the integrity of the system here. These are tangible things our people can already do. And then, we can bring that ideology into different sectors and ecosystems within the economy.
Politicians should be held responsible and accountable for our environment and people.
How can individuals take actions?
Honestly, that's up to people. That's our innate ability. I often say, we have two eyes for two reasons. One is instinct, the other is intuition. Allow them to complement your learning, education, wisdom and experiences.
Someone can't do everything, but everyone can do something. There's a collective. The sum or the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, right? But we need to understand what our common ground is, if there is one and where it is. We can be more conscious and responsible. We've got to be more discerning as individuals, and make it positive so that we all respond to it.
There are many ways for individuals to take action, for example:
Join and connect with Indigenous people. There are peak bodies, Indigenous seed mobs and local communities you can join.
Advocate and agitate your local government to do better.
Form leadership to embark on a Reconciliation Action Plan at your workplace, if you can. Or come up with strategies that actually benefit Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, rather than just token outcomes.
Ultimately, if we aspire to a more inclusive and respectful dialogue with Country, our people and environment, there's an opportunity for all of us.
Danling is the co-founder of ReCo and creative director of reco.digital. Danling has an unwavering passion for creativity, spirituality and the pursuit of positive change in the world. Connect with Danling on Linkedin.
November 1, 2023
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