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Educator Yarns Season 2 Episode 18: Interview with Cecelia Wright

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Today on The Educator Yarns, Jessica speaks with Cecelia Wright, Kaurareg woman, of Thursday Island, owner of Cultural Inclusion, about her work sharing and educating others about the lives and customs of the Torres Strait Islands and their people.

Cecelia’s love and deep connection to her country is on display as she discusses the importance of spirituality, community and connection to one’s village as foundations of the Torres Strait Island people and their day to day. Cecelia yarns about  how these ideals can be shared and recognised within your own community, through song, festival, and family.

SHOW NOTES

Cecelia Wright:

Now, this is what I say to everyone, that culture is a journey. This is your opportunity to celebrate and start it off and you never know where those conversations will lead. So, communicating with families and connecting with them and really understanding what's going on for them is a part of our everyday job.

Jessica Staines:

There are visual provocations and authentic resources that educators can use in their programme.

Cecelia Wright:

We're here to get it right, not to be right.

Speaker 3:

You're listening to The Koori Curriculum Educator Yarns with Jessica Staines.

Jessica Staines:

I'd like to acknowledge the Darkinjung people, the traditional owners of the land on which I am recording this podcast. I pay my respects to their elders both past, present and emerging, and pay my respects to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander listeners. Hi everyone. My name's Jessica Staines, director of the Koori Curriculum. For those of you that aren't familiar with our podcast, season two is all about our new book, Educator Yarns. We're meeting and interviewing with our educator contributors from right around Australia, who will be sharing little snippets of their piece. It will be a combination of stories about why embedding Aboriginal perspectives is so important, how to connect with local community, how to embed Aboriginal perspectives in our programme, how to work with anti-biassed approaches and so much more. So, make sure you listen in and enjoy the episode. Bye for now.

            Hi everyone. So, in this episode, we have the amazing Cecelia Wright from Cultural Inclusions joining us. And the reason that I've asked to Cecelia to jump on our podcast and, as well, write in our new book, Educator Yarns, is that quite often in the early years we talk about embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives in our programme. However, I feel like the words Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders get rolled into one, and whilst educators are really starting to celebrate and privilege Aboriginal culture in their programmes, many educators still really struggle with differentiating the difference between Aboriginal culture and Torres Strait Islander culture, and how they can begin to do that well in their pedagogy and practise.

            And I believe that even many of our even base knowledge about Torres Strait Islander culture and peoples is really limited. So, whilst over at the Koori Curriculum we support educators to include Aboriginal perspectives in their programme, I'm really strong that it's not our role or our place to be advising on a culture that's not our own, that even I myself have very limited experience in. So, I always recommend Cecelia from Cultural Inclusions and direct educators over to her and her business to support them with including the Torres Strait Islander components. So, we're blessed to have Cecelia on the podcast today. So, thanks Cecelia, for joining us.

Cecelia Wright:

Hi everyone. Hey, Jess, thank you very much for having me. In the Torres Straits we always say, sew ngapa, a very big welcome and [foreign language 00:03:14] thank you for having me today on the Little Yarns, on your Educator Yarns. I am originally from Thursday Island, the traditional names Waiben, and we're on the Kaurareg nation peoples nations. And in the Torres Straits, before we start any little session, we actually say a little tiny prayer. So, do you mind if I say a little prayer?

Jessica Staines:

Yes, please. That'd be great.

Cecelia Wright:

Beautiful. Eso almighty, for everything we have today. May you bless us, guide us, keep us safe at this time. Give us some energy and strength to open our hearts, open our minds and to listen today. [foreign language 00:03:51] for everything we have. Amen.

Jessica Staines:

Amen. And so, is that different? Is that what you would do instead of an acknowledgement of country?

Cecelia Wright:

Yeah. So, in the Torres Straits, we are actually very spiritual and our acknowledgement is included in our prayer. So, we ask the spirits to guide us, our ancestors, those that have come before us, to look after us and keep us safe. And in the Torres Straits spirituality was before the missionaries came to the Islands. Of course, we had our lore, our myths and our legends, and our people that we believed in. And so, when the missionaries came to the Torres Straits, their law aligned with traditional law. Their beliefs aligned with our spiritual beliefs. So, in that case, spirituality was accepted into the Torres Straits. And, yeah. We actually have a lot of different churches in the Torres Straits, many different spiritual beliefs, and again, it comes into that cultural inclusion.

Jessica Staines:

And so, I know, and I may be wrong, so please correct me if I'm wrong, but there's a celebration that you have on the Islands, which I believe is called the Coming of the Light. And is that to signify when Christianity came to the Islands, is that right?

Cecelia Wright:

Absolutely. So, 1st of July is the Coming of the Light celebration in the Torres Straits, and it is a significant date. It is a bank holiday, and in the Torres straits, like all of our celebrations and all our significant dates, we actually celebrate together as a community, which I encourage all services to do on those special days. Come together, we actually walk down the streets of Thursday Island together, and then we walk over to the park and we actually celebrate together. We have prayers, we have feastings, we have dancing and everyone is there together to celebrate.

Jessica Staines:

That's amazing. And I think this is, again, one of the differences between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture is that even our celebrations are very different, and I know that you have another celebration that you do weekly.

Cecelia Wright:

Very good. So, yeah. This is my little takeaway for educators all over Australia, and schools and community services. Every Friday in the Torres Straits, we celebrate Floral Friday. And Floral Friday is when all of the teachers, the students, the shopkeepers, the bank tellers, everyone wears floral in the Torres Straits. And I say to educators, this is the opportunity to break out those ugly shirts, make some flowers to put in your hair, or lais or play some Island music, have some Island food. This is the opportunity to celebrate culture, and reflecting on that every Friday in the Islands that we do it as well, so you're building your little connection, and your community as well. And, yeah. I've been doing it in services and online at the moment, celebrating Floral Friday with centres, children, and families and educators. So, it's a really great way to start off your journey. That's how I explain it to everyone. This is your opportunity to celebrate and start it off, and you never know where those conversations will lead.

Jessica Staines:

Yeah. Fantastic. And is there somewhere that educators can look, is there a book or a workshop that you deliver where it's just Torres Strait Islander culture 101 for beginners? The languages, how many Islands, the celebrations, what is Island food? What is the music like? Is there a resource or a workshop that you recommend?

Cecelia Wright:

A good one, Jess. I've been designing some little Torres Strait Islander workshops that I've been delivering in services, and now being delivering them online as well. But we're in a new world right now, so for some services that can't come together physically, we've been doing online master classes. And you'll find that information on my website, Cultural Inclusions. And Cultural Inclusions is really about showing educators how to be inclusive of all our cultures, but in particular starting with the Torres Strait Islands. At Cultural Inclusions we get resources from many different Island groups, many different elders, artists, and creators. We do workshops that take you on a journey.

            Now, this is what I say to everyone. That culture is a journey, and this is your opportunity to start that journey. And every time I go back home to the Islands, to my elders, they keep saying to me that every little step counts, everything you do counts towards that journey. So, when I deliver my workshops I'm really big on encouraging educators to take those little steps, to reach out for support, try some Island food, cooking, get a couple of books. We've got some beautiful photo books where children can actually see pictures from the Island, see those children fishing, diving, spearing and cooking up food. And really have an in-depth look at what's going on in those Torres Strait Islands at the top of Australia.

Jessica Staines:

I think that's really important, is that there are visual provocations and authentic resources that educators can use in their programme, and I know that a lot of mainstream toy providers just don't have authentic resources that... Well, that represent Aboriginal culture well, but even less so that represent Torres Strait Islander culture well. And on your website, I know that you have great posters and books and puppets that you recommend, and even some traditional tools and musical instruments and so forth, which I got from you. So, I got the Kulap shakers from you, which are great to use with our birth to two age groups. They're really tactile and sensory, so you have a great range on your shop as well. And I don't know if you know this, Cecelia, but in season one of our podcasts we had Cassie Davis come on and join us. And she's from Tarneit Kindergarten in Victoria. And Cassie had the opportunity, through her service, they supported her and I think a couple of other educators, to come on a cultural tour with you to the Torres Strait Islands, where they spent, I think, a week with you there.

Cecelia Wright:

Yeah. That's right. Oh, Cassie. Cassie came up with the beautiful educators from Wyndham City Council in Victoria there, and we had... Basically, I take 10 educators up to the Torres Straits once a year. This year, of course, we've had to postpone 2020, but I've got new dates set for June, 2021, and I call it the Educators Study Tour to Thursday Island. And, yeah. It's a unique opportunity to actually come on country, come to my Island, and I literally mean my Island where I was raised and all my family is.

Jessica Staines:

Beautiful.

Cecelia Wright:

Yeah. I do a little bit of a check-in with everyone beforehand because I'm taking you to my Island, so you're representing me as well when you come to TI. And we explore the Island and all the community services that are on my Island, because we are about, it takes a village to raise a child. Well, I'm literally taking you to my village. And we go to the aged care facilities, we go to playgroup, we go to school, we go to the Montessori kindergarten. We explore the different cultural centres on Thursday Island.

            And we also go to Friday Island, yes, there's a Friday Island and it's next to Thursday Island. They have a totally sustainable pearl farm, so that's why I like to take educators there, because they get to see what it's actually like, and literally living off the sea. They prepare beautiful Japanese foods. They show you how they harvest the pearls, because back in the day all those Japanese pearl divers came to Australia, and you get to be a part of that on a deserted Island, apart from the pearl farm. So, you even get to jump off and have a run around on some of the beaches as well.

Jessica Staines:

That's amazing. And I think that cultural immersion experience that you provide is so meaningful, because I know that Cassie now is sharing with other educators in the Wyndham City Council what she learned, but then also how she's transferring that into her curriculum alongside Aboriginal culture, and really embedding that in her programme. So, we're really fortunate in the Educator Yarns book that we've both got your voice as a Torres Strait Islander woman. And Cassie's voice as a non-indigenous educator, who's worked alongside you, and how that's shaped her pedagogy and practise, which I think is a really beautiful story for educators to see and understand the journey as you explain it. That educators are on to be able to do this with integrity and respect is really important. So, I was going to ask you, Cecelia, what are some simple things that educators could begin to do to learn about the Torres Strait Islands and include culture in their programme?

Cecelia Wright:

Yeah. Beautiful. Great question. So, number one, I've got a great little free booklet on my website that everyone can jump on and download. It's called Traditional Experiences, Booklet One. And in that booklet are some recipes, some songs, some activities that you can actually go away and do now. And I love talking about the book because it has my weaving video and links in it, where you can actually learn how to weave my little Island fish. That's like, I'm the crazy fish lady. I teach everyone to weave the fish so you walk away with something.

            And some of the other stuff in the book is cooking Islands scones. You'll see I do that all the time with the children. Yeah. Because that one activity not only teaches children about coconut oil and cooking up for a big family if you're in one of our Torres Strait Island Aboriginal families, multicultural families really, that we have large families. So, those types of meals are about sustaining everyone, keeping everyone full and hungry, and it's a beautiful, sweet treat for everybody. And I love to use food as a provocation because the educators will have a connection to it, the children, the families, and then you're opening up that engagement and that connection with all of those families as well.

Jessica Staines:

I think it's also a good opportunity for long daycare centres particularly, or services that provide meals for children, to think about how they can embed these foods into their centre menus.

Cecelia Wright:

Yeah.

Jessica Staines:

I love that you said that, yes, children can do cooking experiences as just a standalone cooking experience. But, as you said, and it's the same with Aboriginal culture as well, to be members of a community we have to take part and contribute to that community. And so, I look at early learning services as being a community and children are members of that. So, how can they contribute to the community? So, can they make Island scones twice a week and contribute to the making of the morning tea for their centre community? And I think it's those values as well of how you care and show up and contribute that are meaningful.

Cecelia Wright:

Yeah. Absolutely. And I say this exact same message to educators as well, that you're actually a part of that child's village. So, communicating with families and connecting with them and really understanding what's going on for them is a part of our everyday job. And the other lovely thing that I tell educators we should be doing more of is singing with them. And I've released some new little songs that I've created on my YouTube channel, but I always get asked about Taba Naba. And recently I started sharing that Taba Naba is actually about going out to the reef, and in the Torres Straits we don't have cinemas, we don't have skating rinks. We don't have trampoline parks. So, on the weekends in the Islands, we all go out in the boat to the reef.

            We go fishing, we go picnicking, we go diving. And that's what Taba Naba represents. So, when you talk to children about it, I say, "Who loves to go fishing?" They all put their hands up. "Who loves to go out in the boat?" And they all put their hands up, because that's what Taba Naba is about. So, I encourage every service to learn it, to keep sharing it, to keep singing it, because that song represents all of us in the Torres Straits, that is our song. So, it's a wonderful one song for everyone to share. And I do have another little tip, I've got Word of the Day.

Jessica Staines:

Yeah.

Cecelia Wright:

Our centre started sharing with me that they were doing, and their word of the day was kaikai. And as I walked into the centre, kaikai means food or eat. And as I walked into the centre, on the back of the doors for the educators, I could see they'd written a few sentences to go with it. So, they wrote, what have you got to kaikai today in your lunchboxes? What did you kaikai last night? So, they had the actual sentence to go with it, so educators can be using it with the children all day. And I actually loved that it was on the back of the door because the parents would have seen that.

Jessica Staines:

That's right. And how can you educate families so there's continuity and consistency between what the centre is doing and the educators and your families? And many families won't about Torres Strait Islander culture or Aboriginal culture or history for that matter either, so how can we really make that change outside of our centre and have those ripple effects? I love that. I love that. That's a great idea. So, many good tips, and I love your free book. And I know that a couple of years ago we got you to come down to our Educator Yarning circle when we were doing them in Redfern. This is also before COVID. And all the educators grabbed those books and our friends over at Concord West Roads Preschool have done lots of the cooking experiences, and I know that they to continue to do Floral Fridays at their centre community.

            And so, I really love how now your work is online, because you're up in Queensland, but how can we get that knowledge out into all the all communities? And so, I think online, whilst the reasons that we went online may have been due to COVID, I think it will just make that information more accessible to so many educators, that they can tune into your YouTube channel and some of your workshops and webinars and so forth, and get that information from you. So, thank you so much for creating these amazing resources and coming on and yarning with us, Cecilia. I really appreciate it.

Cecelia Wright:

That's all right. I really appreciate it too. And I've got a little quote here I've been sharing with everyone. The quote is, we are here to get it right, not to be right. Yeah. And I think that's really great for us to reflect on as educators. Us as well as Aboriginal [inaudible 00:19:21] women, that it's always a learning journey. So, everyone should be in the same boat as well. It's okay to get it wrong. Hey. We're all learning and we're all on our little journey together.

Jessica Staines:

Yeah. I couldn't agree more. And I think that fear of getting it wrong really stops a lot of educators from even beginning. And people like yourself and myself, we're here to support educators. And part of that is to give feedback and constructive feedback, where we're giving strategies and advice of how they could tweak experiences or look at something a little bit differently, because at the end of the day, we want educators to be including culture in their programme because it's so important. And so, anything that we can do to support and educate other people is what we're all about. So, I love that quote. Thanks so much for sharing it. And thank you for being here.

Cecelia Wright:

That's okay. Thank you very much. In the Torres Straits we say a bit esor, a very big thank you, Jess. And our goodbye word, everybody write this down, is the yawo, Y-A-W-O. So, yawo.

Jessica Staines:

Yawo. Did I say it right? Probably not. Yawo. I have to practise. I have to write it down on the back of my door and practise.

Cecelia Wright:

Yeah.

Jessica Staines:

All right. Cheers, Cecelia. Bye for now.

Cecelia Wright:

Thanks Jess. Bye.

Jessica Staines:

I hope that you enjoyed this episode and had a great little sneak peak between the pages of our new book, Educator Yarns. If you'd like to ask questions or connect with me, best to join our Facebook group, the Koori Curriculum Educator Community, which is free for all of our listeners and members. In our next episode of Educator Yarns, I'll be yarning with Rebecca Birch about how we can celebrate Aboriginal culture through nature, play and pedagogy.

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