Talking to interesting people about reading and literacy is something I could do ALL day and I had the privilege of speaking with Dr Greg Dickson who lives an incredibly interesting life in the NT defending and promoting indigenous literacy and books in indigenous languages . He is also a tragic tennis player, a doctor of linguistics and now a resident of Katherine in the Northern Territory. Greg Dickson’s life and language changed after a student exchange to Iceland, where he realized how monolingual his hometown of Brisbane was growing in the ’90s. In the lead up to Indigenous Literacy Day in 2022 , I spoke with Greg, who is spearheading indigenous language and literacy in a remote indigenous area.
THE SOCIAL BENEFITS OF PUBLISHING IN AN INDIGENOUS LANGUAGE
Greg is the manager of Strengthening the Creole – Stronger Ngukurr Communities, Yugul Mangi Aboriginal Development Corporation. Greg and I discussed the amazing photo I saw on Facebook of Meigim Kriol Strongbala – a shelf full of children’s books in Kriol, a language spoken by most people in this region of southern Arnhem Land. You can find more information about Kriol, by Greg here.
After identifying that Kriol did not figure into the educational system in any significant way, Greg’s organization allocated funds to start a program focused on creating resources in Kriol. Greg says the social benefits of publishing books in indigenous languages are huge and now major publishers like Allen + Unwin are starting to publish books exclusively in Kriol. Beloved children’s books like ‘Too Many Sassy Dogs’ by Joanna Bell, Illustrated by Dion Beesley (which has an incredibly inspiring story behind it) have now been published in Kriol.
Local author events make a big difference
During the three years that Greg and his team have been working on this project, more than 10 titles have now been published (with the help of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation) and children are being taught to read and write in their language. . It is an emerging space as the focus on language and literacy in remote communities becomes central to education. While there is limited access to language literacy classes at Greg’s local school (1 hour in Kriol to 4 hours in English literacy), the educational theory is that children learn to read and write much better when it is their first language. .
Greg is so positive about the implementation of published books in language, he says it’s a breath of fresh air to see children enjoy and have significant results reading in language. Making it easier for authors to visit the school in Ngukurr has been another undertaking and the school recently received a visit from Karen Manbullo who wrote (published by the Indigenous Literacy Foundation) a book called ‘Girl’. The children were fascinated to learn that Molly, who is a pig by the way, lives in the same region as them, and they were equally fascinated by the fact that they could see how the creative process works: that books don’t just “fall”. from the sky’ – are written by real people about real things.
It was amazing to get an insight into language and literacy in the community and also to connect with someone who does incredibly rewarding and interesting work in the area of linguistics and literacy.
the Indigenous Literacy Foundation has great resources and great recommendations for bringing indigenous culture and connection into the classroom and home.