Communication and consultation

Communication and consultation are key to building a successful partnership with the local Aboriginal Community.

Offer and earn respect. Like all genuinely mutual and productive relationships, engagements with Aboriginal communities need to be based on respect. We need to offer and earn respect, particularly in dealings with community Elders and leaders.

Elders and community leaders not only hold key community knowledge but they also have a great deal of influence over when, how and if a community will work with those from outside. This is also true for other representatives of the local community. An Elder or leader may not necessarily be an older person. They may also be a younger person who is well respected within their community and holds significant community knowledge. Many Aboriginal people acknowledge Elders and leaders as Aunty or Uncle, even if that person is not a relative or kin, as this is a sign of respect in Aboriginal culture.

Always be aware of the need to consult Elders and treat them with respect. The same courtesies accorded to dignitaries should be applied to Elders.

Where extensive consultation is required, ensure that Elders are paid at the same rates as professional consultants. It is unreasonable to assume that consultation can be undertaken with Aboriginal people and communities at no cost. If the intended consultation is not expected to take a long time, then remuneration may not be required. However, it may be appropriate to supply morning or afternoon tea or refreshments. Transport to and from the venue may also need to be arranged.

General practical tips

  • Respect, acknowledge, actively listen to and respond to the needs of Aboriginal people and communities in a culturally appropriate manner.
  • Show respect for Elders and leaders in the community and involve them in important decision-making processes.
  • Referring to an Elder or leader as Aunty or Uncle may not be appropriate for an outsider unless a strong relationship has been established.
  • Establish community advisory groups with local Elders and Aboriginal organisations, or access existing groups to ensure culturally relevant and sensitive service development and delivery.
  • Respect cultural values, protocols and ways of doing business.
  • Display Aboriginal visual and written material where possible.
  • Respect a community that has Sorry Business by not requesting meetings or work, for a period of two weeks or as advised by the community.
  • Avoid displaying or broadcasting images of deceased people. If it is important to do so, make sure that you have permission from the person’s family and/or community and include a relevant disclaimer.
  • Try and ensure there is complete understanding of information when consulting with community members. Ask questions, repeat main points and present information as clearly as possible.
  • Too often people see consultation as just giving information. True consultation allows time for community members to discuss and consider. Repeat visits are often necessary to ensure the best outcome.
  • If appropriate, remunerate Aboriginal people for their time and expertise.
  • If organising consultation or other types of meetings with Aboriginal people, consider transport needs. If the meeting will go for over one or two hours, providing light refreshments is recommended.
Contributed by Sue Norman published in 2015.