Journal article

Indigenous public service leadership and issues of cultural fluency

Public servants Cultural awareness

Being culturally fluent requires more than a knowledge of the behaviour and values of the ‘other’. It requires an understanding of the environment in which the culturally fluent contact is taking place. In Australia, this context is one of unequal power and non‐Indigenous dominance. This setting is often invisible to non‐Indigenous Australian Public Service (APS) officers who see their culture as the norm, their policies as culturally neutral, and themselves as culturally objective. To operate in this space, Indigenous APS senior officers need to be both resilient and culturally fluent if they are to make a difference to the social and economic lives of Indigenous people.

In this paper, I reflect on the difficulties encountered by Indigenous senior officers negotiating the highly contested interface between cultures of unequal power within the APS. This interface is where Western and Indigenous epistemologies and experiences intersect (Nakata, 1998), and it is where the skills of cultural fluency are needed most. In my view, the path to cultural fluency for Indigenous APS leaders requires resilience in order to move through ‘cultural shock’, and the skills of communication with, and a critical knowledge of, the dominant culture in order to open opportunities for social justice for Indigenous people.

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