Sharon Saunders is a Senior Inclusion Professional at Inclusion Support Queensland. In 2021 Sharon, along with colleague Kellie Still, were finalists in the 2021 Queensland Reconciliation Awards for their work with the Nangara NAIDOC group.

Sharon has close ties to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. Her husband and children are proud Nunukul people of Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island). In her early career, she was the Director of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Kindergarten and supported Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adult students through the completion of their Diplomas of Education.

What does expanding language mean to you personally?

I believe language truly has power. By reflecting on language, we individually have the capacity to shift conversations to create a growth mindset. The opportunity to unpack language with my colleagues provides me with the space for critical reflection and to consider how I can ensure my own use of language elicits a respectful, inclusive and strengths-based conversations.

Describe the language program you were involved in.

The embedding of language is one step educators can take in the long pathway of Reconciliation, demonstrating a pride and respect for traditional languages as part of the identity of our first nations peoples.

Our Nangara group supports monthly opportunities for Early Childhood Educators (ECE) and teachers to come together and particate in professional conversations where we discuss and unpack a variety of subjects in the profession. This includes reflecting on our use of language and how this empowers both educators and children.

In 2021 our annual NAIDOC celebration at Daisy Hill gave children and the community the opportunity to spend the morning participating in children’s play-based experiences, a traditional smoking ceremony and dancing, art opportunities, language experiences, storytelling and engagement with local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members.

To support the embracing and extension of language we draw on the knowledge of our consulting elders, community members as well as the Yugambeh Museum Language & Heritage Research Centre at Beenleigh.

The Yugambeh language people are the traditional custodians of the land located in south-east Queensland and north-east New South Wales, now within the Logan City, Gold Coast, Scenic Rim, and Tweed City regions whose ancestors all spoke one or more dialects of the Yugambeh Language.

Supported through the “Learn the Language” focus of the Yugambeh Museum, our event promoted experiences for children in the Yugambeh language and provided opportunities for children to learn and use the words of our traditional custodians.

What impact has the program had?

Early childhood services in our region have embraced these words and are now using these throughout their daily programs with children, in written form throughout their environments, daily with children in spoken word and song, and in communication with parents and families.

What is the most rewarding part of your work?

I feel most rewarded when I see the community, and particularly young children, engaging with all the of the experiences provided and with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community who are so generous in coming and sharing not only their time, but also their cultural knowledge with all of us.

The faces of the children as they engage with stories, dance, song and language and go home with a better understanding and respect of our First Nations Communities – that is the rewarding part for me.