Preferred terminology

It is important to observe the preference of title of an Aboriginal person or Torres Strait Islander. Some Aboriginal Australians object to being labelled ‘Aborigines’, as this was a term imposed on them by the British, and is the general term for any indigenous people. Some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are opposed to the term ‘Indigenous’ being used as it generalises both cultures. In our local area, the Aboriginal Community prefer to be called Aboriginal people or Kooris.

Nation, clan, or language group names

Use of more specific regional (Koori, Murri, Goori etc.) or nation, clan, or language group names requires a great deal of knowledge on the part of the speaker in order to be correct and appropriately inclusive. Therefore, unless certain of the correct name and pronunciation, use of these terms should be avoided. Also be aware that spelling and pronunciation can differ from region to region and within groupings.

Practical tip

It is suggested schools ask their local Aboriginal community which name they would prefer schools to use when addressing their cultural group.

The use of capitals for Aboriginal and Indigenous

A number of teachers and Aboriginal parents have expressed concern about the correct way of referring to Aboriginal peoples in written text. Protocol around the terminology of Aboriginal Australia has existed for many years; this protocol has not changed, and in some instances has been strengthened and is considered by many to be more important than ever.

A person is Aboriginal. Aboriginal people are recognised as the original inhabitants of Australia. The Indigenous people of Australia are the Aboriginal peoples and Torres Straight Islanders. Indigenous people are culturally diverse with different languages, customs, traditions, heritage and beliefs. Different Aboriginal groups are known as language groups, Nations, or communities, depending on the context.

A capital A or a capital I should be used when referring to Aboriginal or Indigenous Australians. Not doing so is regarded by many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as being offensive and belittling. It is similar to not giving another country’s inhabitants the courtesy of capitalising their identity, for example, chinese, european, south american etc.

Traditional Custodians

It is customary to write Traditional Custodians with capitals.

Practical tip

Check, check and check again any documents and information that refer to Aboriginal Australians within your school.

Spell check will not pick up that a capital A has not been used, unless it is the start or a sentence or paragraph.

Use of the term Aunty or Uncle

Titles such as Aunty and Uncle are used as marks of respect for Elders in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. Unless you are personally familiar with the a particular Elder, have used the term previously with them, been invited by the person to address them as such, or advised by a member of the Indigenous community, you should avoid using the title.

If not referring to an Elder as Aunty or Uncle, Mr and Mrs should be used. Unless invited by an Elder to use Aunty or Uncle, use of an Elder’s first name should be avoided.

A capital E should be used when writing the title Elder.

Practical tip

Schools should ask local Aboriginal Elders and community members how they would prefer to be addressed.

Offensive Terms

Outdated terms such as part-Aboriginal or full-blooded are extremely offensive and should never be used when referring to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Acronyms such as ATSI, TI, TSI or abbreviations such as Abos should never be used, as they are offensive to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Practical tip

Listen for, and be aware of, the language that is used to address Aboriginal people in your school and correct those who use inappropriate terminology. This may include non-Aboriginal community members who are casual workers or visitors to your school.

Contributed by Sue Norman published in 2015.