First Nations Engagement Community of Practice: Sherrie Anderson learn by coming with me

Our First Nations Enagement Community of Practice was launched by Transgrid’s Yura Ngura Indigenous Advisory Team. The team drive reconciliation through inclusive and respectful engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across the communities Transgrid operates in. 

Sherrie Anderson, a proud Biripi/ Worimi woman and Manager of the Yura Ngura Indigenous Advisory Team, spoke about the journey and growth of her organisation in First Nations Engagement.

As Sherrie explains, “Think transformational, not transactional when it comes to First Nations Engagement”.

So how do you ensure your engagement with First Nations communities is transformational?

It is important to acknowledge that engagement with First Nations people is completely different from other forms of customer and community engagement.

“Organisations need to build trust and relationships before they earn the right for conversations” Sherrie advises.

There is no rule book or cookie cutter approach. Every community and every engagement is different.”

The values of your organisation are crucial, not only for successful engagement but also in how it impacts the wellbeing of Aboriginal employees. This includes engagement for the purpose of developing a relationship which will make the difference for your Aboriginal employees feeling culturally safe and not taking on an excessive cultural load.

Sharing economic benefits with the community means looking beyond the ‘tick a box’ exercise, to see what else can be done to bring the community into the project. Sherrie gave an example of bringing members of the community into the project team to be Aboriginal mentors.

Insights for Better Practice First Nations engagement

Lessons shared…

  • Shift your mindset to move away from ‘solutions listening’ (listening to find a solution). Instead listen to understand and build a relationship.
  • Abide by the Principles of Free, Prior and Informed Consent, for more information check out this resource from the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies AIATSIS here.
  • Set realistic expectations within your organisation particularly around funding and timelines. This also includes discussions around what success looks like both for your organisation and Aboriginal community or Traditional Owners. Be sure to set and monitor these measures.
  • Celebrate the wins. Sherrie used a ‘win notebook’ to jot down all the little successes. Looking back at these not only restores morale of the team but is also a way to reflect with community on what has been achieved together.
  • Non-Aboriginal employees have a role to play. Mentoring and guidance provided by Aboriginal employees, helps to remove barriers, and advocates for the values and protection of Aboriginal culture and communities. This is crucial to the success of First Nations engagement along with employee wellbeing.

Session resources 

Have a look at Transgrid’s Yura Ngura Indigenous Advisory Team and their journey towards reconciliation through inclusive and respectful engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Learning to develop each individual relationship with First Nations communities means understanding that all experiences are different. As Sherrie explained, as ‘a saltwater woman’ heading into ‘muddy waters’, she was new person to that community and had to earn their trust.   

About this Community of Practice

The First Nations Engagement Community of Practice is led by First Nations thought leaders across the energy and water sectors. It is an initiative that works to improve engagement practice with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander customers and communities in collaboration with the Water Services Association of Australia (WSAA)

Every second month, the Energy Charter together with WSAA host the community of practice, learning from First Nations-led discussions that builds on the three stages of the Better Practice First Nations Community Engagement Toolkit.

  1. The Foundations stage prioritises cultural training and awareness as the first step of the better practice journey.
  2. The Building Blocks stage develops practice recognising that engagement with First Nations communities is different to other engagement.
  3. The Ongoing Steps stage helps organisations move away from opportunistic engagement towards long-term trusting relationships.

Learn more on our dedicated First Nations Better Practice Community Engagement page here.