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First step on reconciliation journey

Reconciliation is a journey and, while taking the first step is something all water organisations need to do, one utility is focusing on building strong understanding to ensure continued, effective and authentic reconciliation.

The theme of this year’s National Reconciliation Week is "more than a word" and Icon Water Managing Director Ray Hezkial said while the utility is at the beginning of its reconciliation journey, its focus is on deepening its understanding of the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander context.

“As the sole water utility in Canberra and the custodians of Canberra’s water supply, it is important that our reconciliation actions are grounded in a genuine understanding of the cultural practices and techniques for water, waterway and land management of the original water custodians,” Hezkial said.

“Our board members and executive, along with the RAP working group and our environment and sustainability branch, recently attended an On Country Cultural Tour.

“Members of the Ngunnawal community led this cultural experience. It included the sharing of the traditional use of local plants for medicine and bush tucker, as well as team activities of boomerang throwing and hut building.

“We have conducted a cultural awareness survey, which was developed and hosted by a local Traditional Owners organisation. This has provided us with valuable baseline data that shows where we are at now and will assist in the ongoing measurement of reconciliation in our organisation.”

River stories

Hezkial said the utility has also been engaging with a local Aboriginal artist in order to represent the local Aboriginal story of the Molonglo, Murrumbidgee and Yass rivers.

“It tells the Aboriginal story of how these rivers were used as pathways to travel across Country and places of gathering and learning,” he said.

“The artwork also conveys the importance of taking care of our land, water and the environment to ensure balance, sustainability and cultural knowledge into the future.

“Acknowledgements of Country are now becoming an integral part of meetings, being frequently delivered at the commencement of board, executive, internal and external meetings.”

Hezkial said key focus areas over the next 12 months will be to provide regular internal communications related to reconciliation and take actions that support linking day-to-day business with the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

“We will be working with local Elders and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations to develop mechanisms for the sharing of their traditional knowledge,” he said.

“Other focus areas will be progressing actions related to Indigenous procurement and employment.”

Hezkial said Icon Water believes that reconciliation beyond words needs to be genuine, rather than a list of tick-a-box activities, which is why future reconciliation works will involve partnerships with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

“We appreciate that every person brings their own views and perceptions to reconciliation, and as we progress our RAP we are aware of the importance of working in partnership with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to ensure there is authenticity to what we are doing,” he said.

“While our RAP is relatively new, there have been activities in place to connect and engage traditional custodians for some time, particularly in the work of our environment and sustainability branch who, in partnership with local Elders, conduct regular cultural burns as a land management practice.

“Our RAP has enabled us to bring together those things that we have already been doing with additional actions to increase our awareness, expand partnerships and explore greater opportunities to contribute to reconciliation.“