By Kathleen Ellerman-Bull MAPS, Convenor and Kylie Cann MAPS, Secretary

The APS Interest Group has been active for the past 15 years, and currently has 196 members. Recently, more Indigenous members have been active in the committee activities. This trend revives the spirit of the original group, which intended that the Convenor should always be an Indigenous person, an aspiration that proved difficult to sustain amid the multiple demands placed on Indigenous leaders in general, and on the very small number of Indigenous psychologists in particular. The Interest Group is compiling a list of Indigenous speakers as contacts for APS members seeking to access Indigenous expertise.

Interest Group members work to ensure that Indigenous concerns are kept in focus at all levels in our professional activities. The importance of this role has been highlighted for the Convenor of the Interest Group in the numerous meetings attended in Canberra and in the APS, where she is often the only person in the room who voices the concerns of Indigenous children in rural and remote Australia and the provision of services to these disadvantaged communities. Sometimes, only small changes are required, such as adapting design and language, or recognising the circumstances of Indigenous communities, in particular, young people.

Over the past year, the Interest Group has achieved a great deal. Amongst the highlights have been:

  • Organising a full day Cultures Symposium and a joint Interest Groups dinner during the 2006 APS/NZPsS conference in Auckland
  • Involvement in organising the Rio Tinto-sponsored Bendi Lango Art Exhibition which raised a substantial amount of money for bursaries for Indigenous psychology students
  • Funding support for the attendance of Indigenous students at the Mental Health Conference in Cairns
  • Strengthening networks and liaising with universities' Indigenous student support groups to feed into the APS Working Party on a National Curriculum in Indigenous Awareness in Psychology
  • Producing a Newsletter as a vehicle for sharing resources – we encourage members to use it by submitting articles about work in progress and sharing the successes and tribulations of other workers in the field.

The Interest Group is showing the benefit of all that work in the growth of membership numbers and in the effect that its work is having in the field. Members’ commitment and energy works towards ensuring that we deliver culturally appropriate and effective psychological services to all peoples.

Passing on the message stick in Auckland

This year, the Interest Group dinner was hosted by the NZ National Steering Committee on Bicultural Issues in the function room of The Mexican Cafe. Our New Zealand ‘sister’ Interest Group were wonderful hosts, greeting APS members with a formal welcome and beautiful song.

As part of our preparations for the joint APS/NZPsS Conference, we worked closely with our NZ counterpart to choose an appropriate gift for our hosts. The gift of message sticks and an Atlas of Indigenous Australia was presented by Christine Gillies, European and Indigenous Psychologist, APS and Interest Group Member, with the following words:

I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet. My own people included Anglo-Celtic, Jewish, Ngarrindjeri and Bindjali people. My Aboriginal forebears were the traditional custodians of the lands surrounding the mouth of the River Murray and the lower South East of South Australia.

Drawing on the tradition of Australian Aboriginal peoples, I present this message stick to you as a symbol of peace, goodwill and respect from the members of the Australian Psychological Society’s Interest Group on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and Psychology. We thank you
for welcoming us to your country and for the opportunity for us to come together and share our knowledge.

The message stick is presented as a symbol of a new beginning, where all contribute to the educational, economic and cultural wellbeing of all people. It represents new and old cultures coming together and creating memories for the future. Sharing of knowledge is not new to Indigenous people. Australian Aboriginal people used technology such as the message stick to pass along stories from one group to another and to call the people of different tribes together. In order to foster new paths and relationships between our nations in the future, we invite you to honour this tradition by passing the message stick to a member of your nation each time we meet at together at future conferences.

It is our hope that the passing of the message stick will allow us to engage in discovering and rediscovering ways of thinking that will allow us to take action and become inspired – together.

Our gift was accepted by Linda Waimarie Nikora, Senior Lecturer and Director of the Maori and Psychology Unit, University of Waikato. Linda was the first Maori person appointed to a psychology department in Aotearoa/New Zealand and remains a key figure today. As she accepted with great warmth, the room erupted in a song of thanks. It was truly a treasured moment, creating a bond which remained until (and beyond) the end of the conference.