Building Cultural Competency through Immersion

Ever wondered what the difference between cultural awareness and cultural competency is?

Cultural awareness is a learning process focused on knowing and understanding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and cultures and an increased sensitivity to the current context and cultural backgrounds of Aboriginal people.

Cultural competence is all about developing the skills to implement strategies and practices in a workplace based on learnings from cultural awareness. So while cultural awareness is important, organisations striving for cultural competence is what Kooyar Wongi advocates for. We work with a range of organisations to build an understanding of this, so that the end result is a culturally safe workplace or service for Aboriginal people.

We recently had the pleasure and privilege to do just this with the South West Gateway Alliance in February and March, over two cultural immersion events. The Alliance Management Team and other senior team members undertook an intensive program to advise them on how to implement the Bunbury Outer Ring Road (BORR) construction in a way that is culturally competent, safe and inclusive. Kooyar Wongi’s Principal Director Bill Bennell led the Alliance team members in interactive, on-Country events at the Roelands Village property and on the Leschenault Inlet.

They learned from local Elders about what it means to walk in the shoes of a Nyungar person, they heard from younger local Nyungar business owners about what it means to be provided opportunities in business, and they had the opportunity to learn from Bill about Nyungar culture, land management, heritage and kinship. They learned about the importance of dance, art and story-telling to cultural knowledge transfer, and heard from their own Nyungar staff Joanne Hill and Kandice Hart about the day-to-day realities of being a minority in a workplace. They also had one hell of a feed thanks to the Woolkabunning Kiaka catering team, featuring a lot of local Nyungar favourites!

All of this was designed to challenge preconceived ideas, allow for open and honest discussion, forge new relationships based on mutual respect and trust between the Alliance and the local Nyungar community for the implementation of the BORR project, and ultimately, to create a culture within the Alliance Team of cultural competence and safety for Aboriginal employees, contractors and community members engaging in the project.

Kooyar Wongi commends the Alliance on their commitment to building cultural competence, to ensure that the BORR project delivers real opportunity for local Nyungar people in employment, training, business development, heritage management and place-making in a culturally safe approach.

I’ve worked with a range of organisations in heritage management, environmental management and community capacity building over my near 30 year career and to see the Alliance putting their aspirations into actions and putting our Nyungar culture front and centre from the beginning of such a huge project is very rare.

To see the participants really listen and learn from our Elders when they were sharing their stories so bravely and openly about previous barriers to our people taking equal part in society, and to hear them talk about how they plan to embed their learnings in the broader Alliance team to break down these barriers was particularly encouraging. Our mob haven’t had many opportunities to be truly heard and have action taken as a result.”, said Bill of the events.