It’s a gong for Dr Atkinson

It’s a gong for Dr Atkinson

Yorta Yorta woman, Dr Sue Lopez Atkinson, has long championed the importance of early years education for Aboriginal children and of the importance of non-Aboriginal educators to move beyond tokenistic Aboriginal inclusion in their services.

In June, on the Queen’s Birthday, her work was recognised when she was awarded the Member of the Order of Australia for significant service to early childhood education, and to the Indigenous community. 

In 2000 Dr Atkinson became the Co-Founder and Cultural Mentor of Yarn Strong Sista, alongside Annette Sax and Arakwal educator Delta Kay to support greater understanding of Indigenous Aboriginal history in early education and care.

Sue was awarded her doctorate in 2008 from the Melbourne Graduate School of Education. Her thesis, Indigenous self-determination and early childhood education and care in Victoria explored how Victoria’s early childhood community negotiates colonial constructions of Aboriginality. It found a need for a reconceptualisation of Aboriginality that could better address issues of race, culture, identity and racism that see Indigenous communities marginalised within non Indigenous early childhood programs.

In 2017, she wrote Possum Skin Pedagogy: A guide for Early Childhood Practitioner calling on non-Aboriginal early childhood practitioners to “move beyond an Aboriginal inclusion that can be tokenistic and fleeting.” She constructed this Framework to support services to embed Aboriginal perspectives into their programs via a framework developed in consultation with Victorian Aboriginal Elders and other leaders of the Victorian Aboriginal community through the lens of a ‘Possum Skin Pedagogy’.

She explained that “A possum skin was an Aboriginal child’s first blanket. The underside of the skin was incised using a shell or stone with symbols that were significant to the clan group and connected the child spiritually to the land and the spirit ancestors. Over time pelts and symbols would be added so that the skin would grow with the child. During their lifetime, children would experience the many uses of possum skins in everyday and ceremonial life. At the end of life, people were often buried in the possum skin that had been their cloak, their mattress and their blanket, and significantly their link to their sense of place and the spiritual realm.”

Dr Atkinson had previously been recognised for her volunteer work with Aboriginal organisations and fka Children’s Services in Victoria (of which she is a board member) by being awarded Victoria’s Volunteer of the year  in 2018.

Dr Atkinson is also the author of the Cultural Knowledge Story for the Equity and Diversity Practice Principle Guide for the Victorian Early Years Learning and Development Framework. The Cultural Knowledge Story was developed by Dr Atkinson in conjunction with Annette Sax The story description and ochre artwork illustrate the VEYLDF's three elements: Learning and Development Outcomes, Practice Principles and Transitions.


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  • Jessica Staines