Making a space for First Nations' languages

Indigenous Literacy Foundation

Earlier this year our team returned from a jam-packed trip to Tiwi, where they visited Milikapiti school on Melville Island, NT. Program Director Tina, Program Coordinators Laura and Cindy, and Marketing Coordinator Liz were in high spirits as they prepared to leave from Darwin.

The weather however, had different ideas, and things didn’t quite go to plan. Our team woke to torrential rains - monsoon season was well and truly showing us her stuff. After almost six hours of waiting for clear skies, we finally got the go ahead and were on our way.

After a quick stop to pick up Tiwi elder and cultural advisor Nina Black, and a less than smooth landing, we had made it! 

“As soon as we landed, TW, a parent and attendance officer at the school was there to pick us up, and whisked us off to the school in no time,” explains Program Coordinator Laura, “But we got to the school with only two hours until the end of the school day.”

Our team spent the afternoon with Nina to finalise some text for a new book project we’re planning to publish titled Ngawurrapingintaya. ‘Ngawurrapingintaya’ means listening in traditional Tiwi, and we needed Nina’s expertise to add in some words and phrases. We also spoke to her about a new board book version of Tiwi classic No Way, Yirrikipayi! which is currently in the works.

“Working with Nina was absolutely incredible,” says Laura, “Anytime spent with an Elder is like sitting in a library. Hearing language pronounced correctly is so meaningful, and seeing the way Nina broke down words and phrases to match the illustrations was amazing. You’re watching the evolution of language.”

The next day we returned to the school, and two of our team broke off to work with the local Families as First Teachers playgroup (FaFT). 

“We sat with Nina, five mothers and their children. Watching them communicate with each other, sometimes in English, sometimes in Tiwi, watching that sharing of language and learning was so powerful - a real life history lesson.” 

After Nina read Teeny Weeny Yikiyikini to the group, we found out about a song the kids sing on the island, all about animals - the Barramundi song. Our team loved it so much, we now have plans to turn it into another book! 

“It’s great for the kids,” Laura explains, “Putting a song they know into a book is so empowering for them. It gives them something to relate to and helps to keep them engaged in learning.”

“It was amazing to sit with the kids and hear them sing in language. It gives me so much certainty and reconfirms for me that we’re on the right path. I can really see that there is a space being made for First Nations’ languages and that makes me excited and proud.” 

  • Posted 07 May, 2020