While there are undoubtedly inherent structural barriers for practitioners to contend with, every individual has the capacity to act as an agent for change, if they are supported and appropriate investments are made to continually improve their capacity to work with the hardest to reach learners.
For Mission Australia, Charcoal Lane provides an opportunity to create a culturally safe space for Koorie trainees to explore their Aboriginality, connect with their community and sustain success beyond the program. It also provides a reference for how Mission Australia can work with other Aboriginal communities around Australia to allow them to find their own voices and supporting them to achieve their own visions for self-determination.
The embedding of cultural wellness at Charcoal Lane is about moving away from a deficit view of learners and instead understanding how their funds of knowledge regardless of how challenging/ confronting can be realised and nurtured within the setting to ensure that the individual has the ongoing ability to cope with everyday pressures and realise their personal potential.
Despite Marxian critiques that Aboriginal knowledge systems are marginalised by the conditions of capitalist production and that Aboriginal young people come to western learning environments with less transferable cultural capital because of socio-historic factors, this is where change (read innovation) must emanate from within our system for teaching and learning and finding alternate ways for valuing diversity.
The impact of colonisation, relocation of Indigenous people to missions and reserves, the grief and trauma resulting from the removal of children, ongoing racism and continued socio-economic disadvantage have had severe effects on the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal and Toress Strait Islander People (Australian Institute of Health & Welfare, 2013). As per Zipin (2009), it is argued that dark funds of knowledge should be shied away from.
Drawing on Moll et. al (1992) it is argued that Aboriginal young people come to the learning environment with pre-existing funds of knowledge about self and the wider world which needs to be drawn on, nurtured and valued within the learning environment. This serves as a key to engagement and subverts the entrenched power relations between black/white knowledge systems, formal/informal learning contexts.
This re-valuing of learner identity and knowledge in education is based on a Friereian notion of challenging the culture of silence of the dispossessed by giving them the critical tools to speak on their own behalf.
As per Smith (2006), this innovation at Charcoal Lane is seen as both a response to a perceived problem in learner/ community engagement but also as a chance to realign the relations of power within the learning environment e.g. the Aboriginality of trainees is valued and nurtured.
While Charcoal Lane is in essence a vocational pathways program, the embedding of cultural wellness as an integral part of the pedagogical framework, challenges practitioners to re-conceptualise Aboriginal 'disadvantage' as a symptom of history not as a cause in itself. In this way, 'deficits' can be addressed through context, not in isolation.
Central premise is that positive self identity serves as a protective factor for Aboriginal young people against historical disenfranchisement and associated intergenerational trauma. At Charcoal Lane fostering a strong cultural environment is seen as playing a critical role in providing security and safety for trainees within the business enhancing their ability to achieve successful employment outcomes.