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Humility key to Indigenous reconciliation within the water sector

South Australian of the Year 2021 Tanya Hosch urged the Australian water sector to practice humility when working towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. 

In 2016, Hosch joined the AFL as the first ever Indigenous person and second woman in its executive team, following her role as Joint Campaign Director of the Recognise movement for constitutional recognition.

“Because of the reconciliation action platforms that so many organisations in the water sector have embraced enthusiastically, I know a lot of you are thinking about how to engage Indigenous peoples in the work that you do, and how to act upon those plans,” Hosch said. 

“But it’s important to stop and take a moment to explore why we are doing this work.”

Hosch said embedding the culture of Indigenous peoples within workplaces is an important first step towards ensuring inclusive and diverse workplaces. 

“When I think about what I want in my work environment to make me feel included, the thing we all need is pretty simple. It is so important to embed the foundation of who we are and what we do in our history. And in Australia, that’s the cultures of Indigenous peoples,” she said. 

“How can we give people a sense of the history of the country we are in? If we embed a demonstrable respect for First Peoples into the foundation of what we do, it should be clear in our workplaces. Space is incredibly important. 

“For all the different areas of inclusion, we need to address [it] in our workplaces and our social settings, our families and institutions. Part of getting it all right sits in getting the foundation right with First Peoples. 

“If you can achieve true reconciliation, true equal relationships with Traditional Owners, then all other forms of inclusion become quite easy. A lot of the principles are the same.”

Hosch said one of the frustrations of First Peoples is having reconciliation efforts sidelined because of the depth of engagement required to achieve genuine equality, but that honest conversations are an important place to start.

“One of the things that can drive us a bit nuts is that there has been a lot of effort in other areas, but we’ve somehow been put in the too-hard basket because of the depth of work that’s required to achieve equal relationships,” she said. 

“We’ve got some significant challenges that we carry as a result of our difficult history. We still carry the pain of the history and we are all still trying to reconcile. 

“It all starts with a conversation; all relationships do. All relationships take commitment, effort and will to make them work. In all relationships, there are moments of discomfort, which is a natural part of growth and maturity. 

“In practice, this is anything but simple. We live in an age of perpetual outrage. Those of us with a lot of privilege and power don’t like to stand in a room and show ourselves to be ignorant. 

“But the fear of getting things wrong can paralyse us.”

Hosch said we need to start talking more about humility, which is crucial to the learning and understanding required for moving forward. 

“Our lack of willingness not to be an expert can also prevent an appropriate amount of humility when seeking to learn. This lack of humility can obscure our view and prevent us from really hearing when we seek to listen,” she said. 

“Much is said and written about what we can learn from Indigenous peoples, but often we fail to have Indigenous peoples in meaningful decision-making roles. 

“But, how many of you have a reconciliation action plan without any Indigenous people on your board? How many of you have sought to understand the stories and cultural connection of the local waterways where you live or where your business is operated from, as well as the animals involved in the stories that sustain the Traditional Owners within that area?

“How many of us have stopped to recognise that greater public awareness and responsibility that we all share for caring for water and valuing water can be enhanced by bringing those traditional and living stories to life in the Australian social fabric?

“How many of us really understand the power and opportunity that the collective source of water means that we all have a common purpose in protecting water and all that comes from it?”

Hosch said our best years are ahead of us, not behind us, and that now is the time to acknowledge Indigenous perspectives, wisdom and understandings of the water resources that underpin the success and vibrance of our communities.