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  • Ken Markwell

Working and walking in two worlds

Updated: Mar 26, 2023

Aboriginal people understand what it means to work and walk in two worlds.

There’s the world of our Aboriginal identity, which shapes how we see and live in the world, and then there’s the world of non-Indigenous constructs where we live, work and learn.

It’s not an easy thing to walk in both.

In the workplace, this challenge often manifests in what we call ‘cultural load’: taking responsibility for cultural matters, even when it’s not what we were hired to do.

You have your job description, which will have, say, eight duties. For Aboriginal people, there’s a hidden ninth duty: you can be expected to perform all things Aboriginal in the workplace. You may have been employed because of your connection to cultural strength and community, even though it’s not officially in your role.

It’s taken me a long time to be able to walk clearly in these two worlds. I’m a senior executive now and, along the way, I’ve gained valuable insights into how to navigate the path.

One of the strongest ways for Aboriginal people to walk in two worlds is to continue to walk strongly in the Aboriginal way in identity and in culture, and not feel like we’re making concessions.

Steps you can take

Here’s some general advice for Aboriginal people facing this challenge in a work or education environment.

  1. Develop a set of tools and strategies, and the confidence, to:

    1. choose the right employer

    2. clearly articulate your expectations in your role in terms of cultural load

    3. express yourself and your Aboriginal identity freely in a work or learning setting

    4. manage cultural load in an effective way.

  2. Find ways to reconnect with your culture regularly – go on country.

  3. Maintain that connection to cultural mentoring and connection to Mob.

  4. Be clear with your employer and colleagues that cultural safety matters.

  5. Clarify expectations from your supervisor/employer and communicate what you are and are not comfortable with in terms of cultural load.

Talking to people who have had similar experiences is important. They can mentor and support you through difficult situations. I offer this type of one-on-one coaching and mentoring.


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