The global United Nations theme for the 2021 International Women’s Day was – Women in Leadership. This theme celebrates the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future.
On this International Women’s Day, I met and had lunch with two extraordinary women who embody this theme through their work with Evolve, a company specialising in Indigenous cultural awareness training.
Munya Andrews is a Bardi woman originally from the Kimberley region of Western Australia. Despite a socially disadvantaged background, and not speaking for the first five years of her life, Munya is an accomplished and influential voice for her community. As a public speaker, she is much sought after in Australia and abroad. Educated in Australia and the USA, Munya has degrees in anthropology and law. She has practised law in Victoria and New South Wales as a solicitor and barrister, and has been a legal academic at the University of Melbourne and at Southern Cross University, teaching Indigenous legal studies. Munya is the author of several books including Aboriginal Dreamtime and Practical Reconciliation which she co-wrote with Carla. Like many Aboriginal people, Munya has learned to live and work in two worlds. Her dream is to bring them closer together, and cultural awareness is an invaluable tool in the process.
Question: Munya, as a white woman, can I call you Aunty? Yes by all means! Aunty and uncle are like titles, they are a sign of respect. Most aboriginal people don’t mind being called this, but I always say: “Ask first”.
Question: Munya, at the commencement of our events here at Creative & Co, I always read an Acknowledgement to Country. Could you explain the difference between this and a Welcome to Country? Welcome to Country is given by an Elder, Traditional Custodian, or recognised spokesperson of the local Aboriginal community. It is given to open proceedings at an event by welcoming you, your organisation and visitors to Country. As I am not from this part of Australia, it wasn’t appropriate for me to say the Welcome, but I can give an Acknowledgement to Country, as can you… it’s open to everyone and a great way for you to become part of our culture.
When most of her friends were having their gap year in Europe, Carla Rogers set off for the remote Kimberly, inspired by a longstanding desire to learn from our First Nations people. It’s a journey she says, she is still on today. A Churchill Fellowship in 2001 led her founding Evolve in 2005, before joining forces with Munya in 2011 to focus on Closing the Gap between black and white Australia. Laying the wisdom of Elders, over a world-class facilitation framework, their company, Evolve, has resulted in award-winning solutions.
Question: Carla, what motivated you to write the book Practical Reconciliation with Munya? We are passionate about creating a kinder and more inclusive Australia. Whilst we do a lot of cultural awareness training we felt we could get the message out wider. Many white Australians do want to make a difference, they want to reach out to an Indigenous person and they don’t want to offend. So we’re very practical and focus how to be an ally to an Indigenous person. And as a non-Indigenous person, I can teach people why it is important to learn about Aboriginal culture, and how to learn about it. So it’s black and white working together.
Question: Munya, can you please give me more insight into the gap between black and white Australians? I wanted to explore the role of privilege in our workshops and so I did some research and came across The Privilege Walk. This activity is designed to explore the underlying privileges that certain individuals, or groups of people, not only enjoy, but are rewarded in society for no other reason than their gender, ethnicity, race or nationality, or their sexuality. The exercise provides a visual illustration of the concept of white privilege which American writer Peggy McIntosh wrote about in her essay White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack in 1988. In our workshops at Evolve, we have adapted the Privilege Walk to Australian society to explore the hidden and apparent privileges of white Australians in relation to the disadvantages of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The purpose of the exercise is to learn to recognise how power and privilege can affect our lives even when we are not aware it is happening. It’s not meant to make anyone feel guilty or ashamed of their privilege, but rather to demonstrate the hidden, unassumed power of privilege and the ways in which it serves to disempower and disadvantage certain individuals or groups of people in society. By revealing our various privileges, we can begin to see ways in which we can use our individual and collective privileges to work for social justice.
For me, it was such a honour and joy to spend time with Munya and Carla and begin to gain some insight into their wonderful and important work. If you wish to contact Munya and Carla, or purchase their books, please click here.