This article was originally published in Imprint: Northern Territory Writers’ Centre Journal, December 2019

Contributors: Felicity Hayes, Veronica Turner, Lorrayne Gorey, MK Turner, Amanda Turner and Anna Maria Palmer

Anwerne Ingkerrekele Mpwareke means ‘By Us, For Us’. It is a project that backs First Nations people to determine our kids’ education, and demonstrates what can be achieved when our creativity, cultural wealth, and knowledge are given a voice. 

We started Children’s Ground on the ground in Mparntwe in 2016 and have been creating our own educational resources, in our First Languages, for our children and families ever since. In 2019, what started with humble beginnings laminating photos and print outs in the office, has progressed to the Anwerne Ingkerrekele Mpwareke: By Us, For Us enterprise. We are writing, illustrating and publishing First Language picture books for our kids, and for the broader Australian community.

As First Nations people we have a lot of cultural wealth and knowledge, handed down to us over many thousands of years by our ancestors. This knowledge gives us our identity. We want our kids to grow up with books that reflect this culture – books that can help them learn to respect, speak, read and write their First Language – something that was denied to many of us and our elders in the past. 

The stories we are writing are not new. Our elders have been telling them to our families for generations: How we make the rain come, the warnings in nature, what comes out at night, which creatures to watch out for, and how to read the seasons’ signs. But now we have the chance to write them down in our First Language, for our children and for future generations. 

We started off documenting our early years learning on country, recording and writing stories in Arrernte, typing it up on the computer, then printing, laminating and making little booklets at Ampe-kenhe Ahelhe. We made these books as a record of the work we were doing, and to teach our kids about their country and language. 

These first little books were about the names of important places we visited and their significance to our families, the animals we saw, the bush tucker we ate, skin names, and the Arrernte words for the trees, plants, birds, and animals that live on our country.

Next, we found a website that could help us design and print books, so we tried that too. We made books called Iwenhe Nhakwe, which means What’s Over There?, Mpwaltye, about the frog, Awengkere about the ducks, and Iwenheke Unte Akaltye-Irreme Apmere Ngkwinhenge, which means What are you learning on your country?’

Over time we talked a lot about what we wanted our books to look like, and how we could best teach our kids. We thought about using simple language, repetition, and strong colours to make it easy and interesting for our kids to learn. We developed stories based on the things we believe are important for our kids to know – like kinship, country, lore, history and survival. 

We started experimenting with iPads and learning how to create illustrations using digital drawing programs. Many of us have been painting for years, but using the iPads has been a whole new learning process.

A key Children’s Ground Principle is ‘Arne mpwaretyeke arrurle arle mpwarewarretyarte ante nthakenhe arle lyete arne mpwarewarreme arteke’. This means ‘always think about old ways and new ways of doing things.’ We are working with the old and the new. Old stories, with new ways of telling.

        

During the last year we have written books in Eastern Arrernte, Western Aranda and Luritja, with grandparents, mums, aunties and kids all taking part. At Yarrenyty Arltere, families and artists are working on a book that celebrates the 9 different languages spoken in the town camp – Luritja, Western Aranda, Eastern Arrernte, Gurindji, Warlpiri, Pitjantjatjara, Alyawarr, Anmatyerr, and English. Our kids are growing up in multi-lingual communities, rich in language. 

These books are for our families to learn together, and for any people who want to learn about First Nations ways of doing things and seeing the world. We want to keep our language and culture strong for our kids, and we are proud to share our stories with other people too.

Many of us working at Ampe-kenhe Ahelhe have been fighting for the right to speak and teach our language in mainstream classrooms our whole lives. Time and again the education system has banned or forbidden our children from learning their language and culture at school. But we have never given up the fight. Many of us also have a long history of working as educators and advocates and we are incredibly passionate about our children’s education and wellbeing.

While the government has started to recognise the importance of teaching First Nations language in classrooms as a subject, there is a long way to go. Our children still have to leave their culture at the school gates when they go to a mainstream school.  

Article 14 of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states:

“Indigenous peoples have the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.”

That’s why our program, Anwerne Ingkerrekele Mpwareke, is so important. It is a chance for us to be the ones making the decisions about what our kids are learning – what stories and histories they are told, what knowledge they are given, and what language they speak.

We are really proud of what we have achieved in the last few years. At the core of all our work at Ampe-kenhe Ahelhe, we are fighting for the right to teach our children, our way with all the knowledge that has been taught for generations and generations by our great leaders – our Elders and Ancestors.

Books from the Anwerne Ingkerrekele Mpwareke project can be purchased from our Children’s Ground online store.