The words we use matter! This report gathers research and recommendations about the messages that work to promote First Nations justice.
Here is an excerpt from the Passing the Message Stick report and a recording of the briefing session. Please note the Commons Librarians recommend downloading the full guide and visiting the Passing the Message Stick site to access all the insights in an interactive and accessible format.
Update: This research took place in 2021 and has been expanded in 2023. If you would like to see the latest guides and research see – Passing the Message Stick: Messages that Build Support for Change on First Nations Justice.
About the Project
We are strong, capable, and know what’s best for our families and communities — but the mainstream narrative paints a different picture of our people.
This project will help us to change the story. It’s for us, and by us, and lays out the messages needed to build public support for self-determination and justice, paving the way for long term change.
While the two-year research project draws on global best practice, the knowledge is ours. These findings are for all First Nations advocates, organisations, spokespeople, journalists and grassroots changemakers – and also include lessons for allies and ally organisations.
As First Nations people, we’re the first storytellers and we need to share our truth.
The anger we feel about the experiences of injustice that our families and communities face is real. This guide shows us how to express this fundamental truth, and at the same time shift those who are persuadable on our issues to support us.
Here’s the good news: this research shows us that what our communities have done in the past works. But in recent years, our message has changed.
We’ve stepped away from messages shared by past movements and campaigns our communities led and won. Instead of speaking to a broad audience, we’ve stepped into a frame of deficit and charity to appeal to Government. The problem is – we’re telling a story that isn’t ours.
The words we use matter. When we share our vision and truth, we can build powerful movements and win public policy changes our communities are calling for.
To do this, and create the space for massive gains, we need to sing from the same songbook – communities, allies and organisations alike.
It’s all about repetition – we tell our stories and show others how to repeat. When all we use the same effective messages we can shift public support and win a transformative policy agenda.
Passing The Message Stick has been led by a Steering Committee of pre-eminent First Nations advocates, and supported by GetUp, Original Power and Australian Progress:
- Dr Jackie Huggins AM: Author, historian and First Nations advocate Bidjara / Birri Gubba Juru
- Larissa Baldwin: First Nations Justice Director, GetUp Widjabul Wia-bul / Bundjalung
- Karrina Nolan: Founder and Executive Director, Original Power Yorta Yorta
- Kirsty Albion: Executive Director, Australian Progress
… and supported by a cohort of 19 First Nations Fellows, who took part in a five month Message Research and Communications Fellowship in Sydney in 2019/20.
Writing Your Message
1. Start messages with a shared value
Powerful values like fairness, taking care of one another, freedom, and knowing what’s best for ourselves can build support for self-determination and justice. By crafting messages around a shared value, we can bring our audiences along, and show how the barriers we face violate widely-held values.
2. It’s time to reclaim our strength
We need to share many stories of our strength and leadership. This helps people to believe we’re capable of making good decisions and support our demands for self-determination.
3. Name the unfair barrier we face, who is causing us harm and why
We need to shine a light on who causes the problems we face, and why. This helps the audience to understand who is responsible for the problem, and understand it can be fixed.
4. Combine truth and action
Our messages need to include the current injustices we face. When we combine these with clear asks and solutions, we gain the support of both our community and persuadables.
5. Create a collective ‘we’
Our base and persuadables are nervous that self-determination means segregation. We can overcome this by bringing them into the message and including clear asks for their solidarity.
6. Explain big concepts in simple language
Many people don’t understand concepts like self-determination, systemic racism, colonisation and equity. We need to put these terms in plain language and use metaphors to convey our message. When we do, we get wide support.
7. Never negate – don’t repeat the opponent’s message
Whenever we try to myth bust, or say the opponent’s message is untrue, we’re helping them by repeating their message. Don’t engage in the opponent frame, instead, we need to speak from our strength and share our truth.
Watch the Briefing
Download the guide
Listen to Podcast
Podcast about Passing the Message Stick on Words to Win By.
- Passing the Message Stick: Messages that Build Support for Change on First Nations Justice
- Framing Issues for Social Justice Impact: Directory of Messaging Guides
- How to Change the Narrative / Story
- First Nations Resources: Start Here
- Aboriginal Australians
- Communication - Messaging
- Framing - Guides_Manuals
- Indigenous peoples_First Nations
- Movements_Campaigns - Indigenous Peoples_First Nations rights