Indigenous Literacy Day is an annual event that celebrates the vibrancy and diversity of Australian Aboriginal languages while offering all Australians the opportunity to learn more about First Nations stories, artwork, culture, and writing. Held on the first Wednesday of September each year, this national day focuses on the power of education while highlighting why lack of access to books impacts many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities–and how that influences their life prospects. Learn more about Australian Indigenous languages with the map of Aboriginal languages.
Launched by the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, a non-profit organisation, the event involves sharing stories and knowledge throughout schools and education institutions, supported by the Foundation’s three programs.
Why Is Literacy Important for First Nations Communities?
Since the colonisation of Australia, huge swathes of ancient Australian Aboriginal languages have been lost, primarily due to the impacts of the brutal assimilation policy. Indigenous people were forbidden from speaking their own languages, including within schools, leading to hundreds of dialects whittling down to around 120 still in use today.
Part of the solution is celebrating and protecting Aboriginal literacy, a fundamental aspect of education, communication, and tradition. Children who lack literacy skills or do not have access to books, poems, stories, and art–whether spoken, written, or visual–commonly experience serious disadvantages throughout their lives.
By marking and participating in Indigenous Literacy Day, we can help address this imbalance, particularly in rural and remote communities without bookshops and libraries that act as vital resources.
We can all play our part by recognising the existing disadvantages and evaluating how we might make a positive contribution. For example, how do you say ‘hello’ in Aboriginal language? If you don’t know or aren’t aware of the dialects and languages spoken in your region, this may be a good starting point, using educational resources to learn how to acknowledge and respect the cultures and people within your community.
What Is the Indigenous Literacy Foundation?
The charitable organisation launched in 2004 when Suzy Wilson, a former teacher, and owner of a bookshop in Brisbane, designed a reading event called the Riverbend Readers Challenge. The idea was to raise funding to help improve literacy levels and grew from there into a national, annual event. The Foundation runs three programs, called:
- ‘Book Supply’
- ‘Book Buzz’
- ‘Community Publishing Projects’
While each has a slightly different focus, the overall aspiration is to ensure all communities have good quality resources, including books and publications in First Nations languages. The work involves publishing stories shared by community members, Elders, and families and ensuring the ownership and integrity of those stories are protected.
What Happens on Indigenous Literacy Day?
This event in September highlights the ongoing work throughout the rest of the year and provides a platform for parents, schools, and educators to sign up and participate in the event. They are equipped with free information, such as lists of approved resources and activity sheets they can use as a catalyst for discussion within their schools and learning environments.
Importantly, Indigenous Literacy Day raises awareness and ensures that children, parents, and communities develop a greater understanding of disparities in access to literacy while also fundraising and collating resources to circulate to schools and children who live in isolated regions.
Although the day itself is a culmination of each of the three programs we have mentioned, it is about more than reading and books. It draws attention to the incredible value of Aboriginal literacy, stories, and heritage and how these have shaped our society as we know it–while helping to prevent further languages and works of literature from being lost.
Can Anybody Participate in Indigenous Literacy Day?
This charitable event is open to all, whether you are an individual, a parent, a school leader, a teacher, a business owner, or a community leader. Participation may look different depending on your circumstances, but you may wish to:
- Support this work by donating to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation
- Hold a fundraising event or participate in the Great Book Swap event
- Raise awareness of the event and ongoing programs by purchasing Indigenous books to share with your children, buying merchandise from the charity, or sponsoring an event or fundraising initiative in your community or business
- Register your organisation or school as an Indigenous Literacy Foundation partner
- Learn more about Indigenous Literacy Day and the importance of literacy for life opportunities by conducting research or following the charity through its social media channels
The overarching goal is to ensure that all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have equal opportunities and access to resources, from community-published works that speak of their heritage and ancestors to educational books and cultural stories.