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Let's Celebrate Indigenous Literacy Day! 09.06.2023

The Indigenous Literacy Foundation will be celebrating Indigenous Literacy Day on September 6th, 2023. In collaboration with the Sydney Opera House, the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF) is proud to present a 15‑minute film celebrating Indigenous Literacy Day with stories and songs from remote Communities.

Following the film, viewers are invited to stay online for a 45‑minute livestream celebration directly from the Sydney Opera House, with a star‑studded team of ILF Ambassadors ‑ Jessica Mauboy, Justine Clarke, Gregg Dreise, Josh Pyke and more!

We are very much looking forward to this celebration and want to share more about the work they do and why Indigenous literacy and language are so important.

We asked ILF to tell us more about their Foundation, how it started, why their work is integral to the health and well-being of Aboriginal and Indigenous Communities in Australia and what the process of creating a book in an Indigenous language looks like. Read on to learn more…

1. How did the Indigenous Literacy Foundation come to be?

The Indigenous Literacy Foundation was founded by Suzy Wilson, owner of Riverbend Books in Brisbane. In 2004, Suzy launched the Riverbend Readers’ Challenge, with the aim of raising funds to improve literacy outcomes in remote Australia.

The Riverbend Readers’ Challenge partnered with the Fred Hollows Foundation to become the Indigenous Literacy Project in 2007. In 2011, it became the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.

Since 2011, the Indigenous Literacy Foundation has worked with over 400 remote Communities, gifted 752,866 books, implemented its early literacy program Book Buzz with 100 remote playgroups, and published 109 books reflecting 31 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages.

2. What is Indigenous Literacy? Why is it important?

Indigenous literacy refers to the ability of Indigenous Peoples to read, write, speak and comprehend information in their own languages. It encompasses not only literacy skills but also includes cultural literacy, which involves understanding and preserving Indigenous knowledge, traditions, wisdoms, and languages.

“Our Communities are vibrant, strong, and highly intelligent. We have this literacy around culture, Land and Community, but how Communities engage with a highly Western concept of literacy is different. I want to engage Communities in those conversations around literacy so they can redefine that space themselves. My vision for the ILF is for the organisation to support remote Communities to engage in literacy in the way they wish.”

- Ben Bowen, ILF Chief Executive Officer

Literacy provides a fundamental step of building context, comprehension and understanding, whether it is written, visual or auditory. For kids who miss that foundational step in their literacy journey, it has a lifelong impact.

ILF’s three programs, Book Supply, Books Buzz and Community Publishing, , focus on ensuring access to quality resources, including books in First Languages, publishing Community stories and supporting Communities and families to lead the entire process to ensure leadership, ownership, and authenticity is held with Community Elders and residents.

3. What was the first book ILF published?

Our first book was The Naked Boy and the Crocodile, published in 2011. This book resulted from writing and illustration workshops led by ILF Lifetime Ambassador Andy Griffiths in remote Communities from 2008 to 2010. He worked with children from remote Indigenous Communities including Manyallaluk, Beswick and Daly River (NT), Wyndham, Fitzroy Crossing and Warburton (WA), giving them small blank “books” and inviting them to fill these – using both words and pictures – with a story based on their own lives.

The Naked Boy and the Crocodile is a collection of 13 stories from these workshops. The book tells tales of playing with friends, riding motorbikes, picking berries, hunting for emu eggs and wild pigs, terrifying turkeys and angry mamus.

4. What does the book creation/publishing process look like?

Typically, an ILF book starts with an application from a remote Community organisation (usually a school or early childhood group, women’s centre or language production centre). The publishing team then consider whether the project meets our vision and strategy. Each is different. They can involve working with translators, linguists, authors, illustrators, editors and artists. We listen to the needs and wants of each Community and collaborate throughout the entire process to ensure Community leadership. Community members decide which language to write their books in.

5. Once a book is published, what happens next?

Once a book is published, if requested, we assist with an official launch and copies of the books are gifted to the Community and often included in the Book Supply program.

There is a real buzz and palpable sense of achievement when children and Community members publish a book through our Community Publishing program. Books can be published for Community use only, or made available for sale via bookshops and the ILF online shop.

6. What are ILF’s plan for the future/the Decade of Indigenous Language?

The ILF will continue its meaningful work to meet the wishes of remote Communities across Australia, to assist with the publishing of books created by Community, many in First Languages as well as to fund the development of digital, audio, or other learning resources and workshops.

The Los Pintos Declaration, the roadmap for UNESCO’s Decade of Indigenous Languages 2022-2032, emphasises Indigenous peoples’ rights to freedom of expression, to an education in their mother tongue, and to participate in public life using their languages, as prerequisites for survival of Indigenous languages.

The ILF acknowledges the immense value of supporting Communities to revitalise, maintain and preserve their First Languages, for cultural integrity, learning, identity, improved wellbeing, and autonomy.

The ILF will look to identify new Communities to partner with, increasing the reach of our Programs. We will seek to establish relationships and access new work with language groups in Cape York, Torres Strait Islands, Western Australia and South Australia. The ILF will also be working with key Partner organisations and Ambassadors to ensure authentic Community engagement from the outset.

7. How can people support your work?

You can get involved and support our work through donations.

For every $10 donated represents the gifting of one culturally relevant book to a child living in a remote Community.

Every $350 donated allows us to establish a pop up Story Time kit for Book Buzz sites, making them even more accessible for the children around the area.

For a $500 donation, a story written in English can be translated into First Language, allowing children to learn literacy in their own language.

There are also other ways to support our work if you cannot donate right now. By simply sharing posts from our social media platforms onto yours, you contribute to spreading the word on what the Indigenous Literacy Foundation is all about. You can check us out on Facebook, Instagram and Linkedin.

There are also opportunities to get involved in fundraisers such as the Great Book Swap or Busking For Change, or fundraise your own way here.

We receive no Government funding and although this allows us to work dynamically, it does mean we rely solely on the generosity of supporters and sponsors, so every dollar counts! By donating, you can support sustainable and positive change in Indigenous literacy through the supply of books and help with the publication of more First Nations content.

You can Register Now for the Indigenous Literacy Day celebration at Sydney Opera House.

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