Red Room Poetry in First Languages project creator and lead, Kirli Saunders discusses the inspiration for the project's inception and her own journey to honour the land in heartful ways. 

Due to my family’s history of disposition and relocation, I was raised without language and culture, resulting in a cultural capital as a child that didn’t allow me to feel pride and confidence in my identity. As a teacher, I saw this shame often in First Nations students in the classroom. Poetry in First Languages (PIFL) came to me during time along the Shoalhaven River as one solution to eradicate this shame, promote pride and support our writers and students to learn their languages with community on Country and to self-express in healing ways. 

Since 2018 PIFL has quickly evolved seeing more than 60 workshops across Dharawal, Gundungurra, Gumea Dharawal, Arrernte, Gadigal and Ngunawal Countries. These workshops have engaged 671 First Nations students, provided 73 employment opportunities for First Nations Elders, Custodians, teachers and creatives. Poems by 34 First Nations writers have also been commissioned in Arrernte, Gundungurra, Dharawal, Gumea Dharawal, Barkindji, Ngunawal, Gadigal, Yugembeh, Wiradjuri, Dhurga, Pintupi-Luritja and Djapu.languages. These poems, alongside 298 student poems, have been published on the Red Room Poetry website, trains, buses, in large scale art installations and performed in community, at Festivals, NAIDOC events and for Professional Development workshops reaching audiences upwards of 420,000.

I feel deeply honoured and grateful to work so closely with so many dedicated communities across the nation, to teach, learn and share First Nations language and culture and to honour the land in heartful ways. 

It has been the highest privilege to sit with Elders around a fire on Country and to hear their stories, to see students utter their first words in Language, to witness community teach dance, write song and plant trees for endangered species like the glossy black cockatoo. 

Managing this project in NT, NSW and ACT with 50 dedicated partners and supporters has helped me grow exponentially. The opportunity to be mentored by Senior Directors at Red Room Poetry has allowed me to take a dream from conception to delivery, providing more skills than any degree ever could. 

I am excited to deliver Poetry in First Languages in the South East regions of NSW in 2020 ad to continue to support our mob to feel connected and proud.  

Kirli Saunders
Lead, Poetry in First Languages
Red Room Poetry

Go to Kirli's profile to read her poems and learn more about her work >