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  • Writer's pictureCraig Sam

Interviewing Indigenous Australians

During a workplace investigation there may be times when you are required to interview an Indigenous person.

In such cases there are many pitfalls of which non-Indigenous people should be aware.

This knowledge will help to streamline the interview process.

At all times it is important to realise that Indigenous Australians are not “one big homogenous group.”

Like others, we have alliances, factions, likes and dislikes.

Just as a person from NSW is different from a Victorian (say: ‘I hit the ball against the wall in the mall!’), Indigenous Australians also have different cultural references.

A person from a remote community will have very different cultural references from a member of the Redfern Aboriginal community or a person from the Torres Strait.

Here are some tips to help that process:

>> Build rapport and then build it up some more. Building rapport is extremely important. Do you have a connection? To country? To people?

>> Listen to what is being said and what is not being said. Non-verbal communication is paramount. And clarify. Aboriginal English can be different.

>> Silence from the interviewee does not mean avoidance. It may be thinking time, digestion of your question, or a polite way for the interviewee to ensure you have understood what was previously said.

>> Be very aware of hierarchy of age, especially in government departments. Though someone may be at a lower level in staff rankings, they may be older in years, earning more respect and power.

>> Indigenous Australian refers to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but we are not the same. A Torres Strait Islander manager may not command the same respect from their Aboriginal staff and vice-versa.

>> Choose the interview venue wisely. Respect beliefs. If you are interviewing someone from a major organisation, be aware they may not want to be seen by others. Likewise, a Desert Person may have issues with being “off the ground”. In these cases don’t organise an interview on the top floor of a high-rise building.

>> Be flexible with interview times and dates. The interviewee may have “business” happening about which you may or may not be told. This is universal and applies to urban and remote areas.

>> A more casual approach, including dress, is sometimes appropriate. Try to remove formal language. This does not mean dumbing down, patronising or ignoring protocols.

>> Be flexible with the interview location. Sitting under a tree having a yarn with an interviewee may be the only option.

>> If the interviewee has an Indigenous support person, be aware that though there may be limited or no blood relationship as defined by non-Indigenous protocols, there is still a relationship.

>> Be discrete. Use the same discretion as in a non-Indigenous interviewee.

>> Keep an open mind. Don’t assume that if someone is fair-skinned they are not Indigenous. This assumption may not only jeopardise the interview, but possibly the whole investigation.

Finally, remember when interviewing Indigenous people, it’s all about “horses for courses.”

Make sure you have the right interviewer for the job. That person must be intelligent and also have the sensitivity needed to successfully complete the task.

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