May 2022

Anna Powell’s CEO Quarterly Message May 2022

This week as we celebrate National Reconciliation Week, I am reminded of my colleague, Mark Yettica-Paulson’s words about needing both the symbolic gestures and the substance to make progress on Reconciliation.

Last week we saw a powerful and symbolic move of the new Prime Minister to stand in front of not just the Australian flag, but also the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags. The substance of the new Governments’ commitment to Voice, Treaty, Truth is what many are looking to next. We will know if there is substantive change – beyond the symbolic – when we experience changes in mindsets about race, power with First Nations peoples, our national narrative, and a Voice to Parliament enshrined in our Constitution.

To create this change will require deep collaboration between First Nations and other multicultural Australians to work out how we truly centre Voice, Treaty and Truth as part of what it means to be Australian. This means creating the environments for real and genuine dialogue across all spheres of our society: across government, community, business and the social service sector. And across all parts of what is now a multi-coloured political spectrum in Australia.

We have seen the importance of investing in the environments and skills for these kinds of transformational changes through CFI’s Deep Collaboration work with the Victorian Treaty process. Our work in Victoria has centred on creating an environment and building the skills in how people understand their own power and actively work with power dynamics that show up in the collaborative work of reconciliation. By doing this work to support the deep collaboration between Government, and the First Nations Peoples Assembly and supporting their work with other community leaders, the substance has more sticking power.

Within CFI as an organisation, we are also asking ourselves to step into the deep work of reconciliation. We are asking ourselves:

What is the symbolic and what is the substance we bring as a CFI team to the systemic work of reconciliation in Australia?

We ask this because we know that our work externally is only as strong as it is internally.

Turning the gaze towards ourselves is the tough work and calls us to bring our full selves into the change process. There are two conversations we are having within CFI right now which go to the heart of how we decolonise our practices through both the symbolic and substance: RecGym and ChangeFest.


Rec Gym: Building our own muscles for reconciliation

First up, as a CFI team, we are building our own reconciliation muscle through our very own Rec Gym (Reconciliation Gym). For us, this is an opportunity to apply the practice of Deep Collaboration to ourselves. Over the 6 weeks between Reconciliation Week and NAIDOC Week, we are exploring what it means to Show Up, Get Up & Stand Up. Rec Gym is a way of looking at this from the streams of the inner work (individually), collective work (as a team) and externally (in partnership with others) – and the currents that run between these streams.

Like any good gym workout, Rec Gym has meant us creating the time, enough trust in the room for us to bring our full selves and collective bravery to step into the unknown of where we may end up. In the case of Rec Gym, the process of reconciliation requires us to ask ourselves the tough questions about our own power, colonised mindsets and the losses we may need to deal with.

In our first session, we shared our stories with four questions that on the surface sound simple: our full name, where we were born, the people we belong to/with, and a special place. These questions quickly brought to the surface the ripples of colonisation in all of our stories. Once we connected with our own stories and heard others’, we became more interconnected. It has already shifted our collective identity. Five more weeks to go with more learning and shifting to come.

Our intention is that by doing this reflective process together, we will create commitments that are authentic and embodied. These commitments will be both symbolic and with substance, for the next stage of our work of addressing Australia’s unreconciled history of colonisation as an organisation.


ChangeFest: Honest conversations about our role as a non-Indigenous National Convening organisation

Secondly, ChangeFest. ChangeFest is a national celebration of place-based change. It is a national gathering of people committed to community-led change from across communities, social services, government and philanthropy. Since it first kicked off in Logan in 2018, ChangeFest has been led by a collaboration of National Convenors and in partnership with Elder groups from the host communities including Logan, Mt Druitt and Palmerston. The ChangeFest Statement anchors the ChangeFest movement: it is a declaration and set of guiding principles set out by First Nations leaders and updated at each ChangeFest gathering.

As we turn towards the next ChangeFest to be held in lutruwita / Tasmania in early 2023, CFI along with the National Convenors, Kowa, LaTrobe University, and Health Justice Australia, have been reflecting on how we are embodying the principles of the ChangeFest Statement – and where we can do better.

For CFI and a number of the ChangeFest convening partners, this has raised questions of substance including:

  • What does a community-led ChangeFest look like in the context of a national movement for place-based change? How might we show up quietly in the community and loudly nationally?
  • What does it really mean to have co-leadership of First Nations and other multicultural Australians for the governance of ChangeFest, the learning program and our influencing agenda?
  • What voices are we privileging and unintentionally silencing through ChangeFest?

In the coming months, we will be exploring these questions and more with the ChangeFest community including Elders, host communities and funders.

Being real and honest about these questions requires those safe and brave spaces we so often talk about. There are times when it might feel easier to step out or see the work of reconciliation as being ‘out there to be done by others rather than within ourselves. In many ways, ChangeFest is another case in point of how reconciliation is a process as much as an outcome: how we co-create ChangeFest is as important as the outcomes of the event.

Let’s return to the flags we saw behind the incoming Prime Minister. They are an important symbol. I have heard from many of our partners this week, that there is a shared sense of possibility signalled by having the three flags hung side by side behind a Prime Minister. This symbol is necessary but not sufficient in itself. We know that the substance of realising the promise of Voice, Treaty, Truth is the longer and tougher stuff – it’s been the work of many generations until now, and will continue.

This work requires us all, individually and collectively, to show up with our stories, fears, grief and awkwardness, and create environments – including in our workplaces, networks and communities – to have the dialogue about what it will really take to put centre Voice, Treaty, Truth in all we do. It is life-long work that we are doing on behalf of those who came before us and those who will follow. This period in and between National Reconciliation Week and NAIDOC week is an important cornerstone of our yearly rhythm. It is a period to not just acknowledge the symbolism of these weeks but to create space for the transformational work on ourselves as individuals and collectives to ensure we – especially as allies and collaborators – are matching the symbols with substance that is authentic and embodied.


Anna Powell, CEO

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