It’s Indigenous Literacy Day Tomorrow

This Wednesday 3 September is Indigenous Literacy Day, an annual initiative of the Australian book industry that raises funds to provide books and literacy resources to remote Indigenous communities across Australia, through the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.

Participating publishers and booksellers donate 5% or more of their takings on the day. And Australians everywhere are encouraged to pause and read, to support Indigenous literacy and celebrate Indigenous culture. (If you’re looking for an excellent recent read by an Indigenous author, why not sample the shortlist for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Indigenous Writing, awarded on the evening?)

Projects supported by funds raised include a free book supply program, community publishing (where possible, in first language), the Book Buzz early literacy project (which aims to provide babies and preschool children in remote communities with a pack of age appropriate board books), and field trips to remote schools with authors, musicians and illustrators.

The Indigenous Literacy Project began in 2004, when Suzy Wilson of Queensland’s Riverbend Books launched the Riverbend Readers’ Challenge – an initiative that was expanded Australia-wide in 2006. The first Indigenous Literacy Day came a year later, on the first Wednesday of September.

Indigenous children in remote and very remote locations are significantly disadvantaged when it comes to literacy, with huge numbers (between 40% and 60%) testing below minimum reading standards by the time they reach Year 3. By Year 7, the gap widens.

By the age of 15, more than one third of Australia’s Indigenous students ‘do not have the adequate skills and knowledge in reading literacy to meet real-life challenges and may well be disadvantaged in their lives beyond school’, according to a 2004 report.

Indigenous poet Samuel Wagan-Watson, an Indigenous Literacy Day Ambassador, provides a concrete real-life example of how critically important literacy skills can be in navigating an Australian society increasingly anchored to the written word. ‘When I was a kid, I learnt of a man who couldn’t read or write. He was sent to jail for a crime he didn’t commit, yet the police forced him to sign a statement that incriminated him. He did several years in jail until the real culprit was found. How could he have been convicted, when he couldn’t even write, let alone read his own apparent confession? When I see Indigenous writers in front of an audience and the punters are hanging off their every word, I think of that man and similar correlations of today’s society and how literacy can save an individual’s life … No one should ever have to pay for the crime of being illiterate.’

Indigenous homes, particularly those in remote communities, have fewer books, computers and other educational resources than non-Indigenous homes. All of these factors are linked to children’s achievements at school and in the development of English literacy skills.

To date, the Indigenous Literacy Foundation has delivered over 100,000 books to more than 230 remote communities.

‘Literacy is essential to Aboriginal people’s self-determination,’ says author and Indigenous Literacy Day ambassador Dr Anita Heiss. ‘If we cannot read we cannot make the decisions that inevitably impact on our lives.’

Visit the Indigenous Literacy Foundation website to find out about Indigenous Literacy Day events in your area, or to donate.

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