Our Langauges Matter

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  • 2019

  • Social Impact

Designed By:

  • ThinkPlace

Commissioned By:

Victorian Department of Environment Land, Water & Planning

Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council

Designed In:

Australia

ThinkPlace designed, ran and facilitated Our Languages Matter, a process that encourages and facilitates greater inclusion of Aboriginal people, language and custom in place-naming throughout Victoria. Our Australia-first process brings together traditional owners, naming authorities and others to collaboratively and justly reshape how places are named and why.


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  • CHALLENGE
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  • IMPACT
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  • Picaninny Creek. Poison Point. Across Australia, many places retain names that are racist or offensive for indigenous people. In other cases, councils and naming authorities agonise over inventing names for roads, places and geographic features that have already had names for centuries. Naming authorities have been confused about how to engage with indigenous communities. Indigenous communities have felt unvalued and ignored by lack of engagement and unaware of how naming decisions are made. Our Languages Matter created a space and process that allow these stakeholders to come together, using innovative approaches and resources to drive shared understanding and purpose.

  • We were initially asked to design a process for the Department to publicly communicate naming guidelines in relation to indigenous language. Instead, we convinced the client to join us in creating a new framework for indigenous people to connect with government, and a new kind of conversation. We designed and ran sessions across Victoria, inviting traditional owners, local councils, surveyors, developers and planners. “This was about getting the right people in the room for the first time but also about inventing a process for them to understand each other and collaborate together,” says Susanna Collis from Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council.

  • “We fully expect as a result of this project there will be an increase in the use of Aboriginal language to name roads, features and localities across the state,” says Rafe Benli from DELWP. This project has: - Created meaningful, ongoing engagement between indigenous communities and naming authorities. - Increased the ability for stakeholders to understand, pronounce and value aboriginal names. - Helped naming authorities to understand the lived reality of traditional owners - Given a platform for local traditional owners across Victoria to register their objections to local place names they consider offensive. - Initiated a process of replacing offensive names with appropriate ones.

  • - All sessions began with welcome to country and smoking ceremonies, establishing these spaces as welcoming for and jointly owned by indigenous participants. - Sessions were tracked and captured using real-time graphic facilitation (also known as live scribing). Recognising the different language groups and competencies in the room (including technical languages and indigenous languages) we created shared understanding, shared intent and shared direction by depicting sessions visually, rapidly scribing with a mix of pictures, diagrams and simple words. - Experts from the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages were brought in to provide framing around language history and convention, ameliorating potential embarrassment for traditional owners who have suffered some language loss. - Experts from the Victorian Aboriginal Heritage Council provided context and framing around history and culture, supplemented by the life experience of traditional owners in each location. - Workshops were run at geographic locations across the state, focusing on areas with significant indigenous populations and cultural significance. - A variety of facilitation methods and group activities were deployed to ensure that the huge range of stakeholders present could move beyond old tensions or suspicions and meaningfully collaborate to create something new and important.