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You can now access updated guidance for appropriate use of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander terminology in the University’s Editorial Style Guide.

The Marketing and Communications Division worked with the Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services) to build on the guidance previously developed by the Koori Centre.

The new guide on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander terminology provides important advice to ensure that the University:
• recognises Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ diverse and distinct cultures
• recognises that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have retained their distinctive identities
• avoids offensive and outdated descriptions.

The proper use of terminology can assist in repairing poor relationships, strengthening current levels of trust and building greater levels of trust for future work.

The new guide helps you to use respectful and consistent language for your communications, and here are some excerpts from the guide that cover some of the key issues. We strongly recommend that you read the guide in full.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander versus Indigenous
The first time you mention students, staff or other groups of people who identify and are recognised as descendants of the original inhabitants of Australia, you should spell out ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander’ in full.

For subsequent mentions it is acceptable to use ‘Aboriginal staff/students’ (if you are not referring to an individual or group of Torres Strait Islanders). It is also important to respect an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person or group’s own preference for their title. If you are unsure, simply check with the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person or group.

Please avoid using ‘Indigenous’ as an abbreviation for ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander’, except where it is absolutely essential to do so, such as in website headings, menus or tabs where it is impossible to provide space for the full name. In these instances, ‘Indigenous’ should always be spelt with a capital 'I'.

For example, headings in feature panes that have very limited space, such as those describing services for students or research, should read as ‘For Indigenous students’ and ‘Indigenous research’ respectively.

Correct use of the word Aboriginal
The use of the word ‘Aboriginal’ as a stand-alone descriptive noun should be avoided, but it is acceptable to use it as an attributive adjective, such as in the Aboriginal Education Unit. The word ‘Aboriginals’ is grammatically incorrect and should never be used in any context. ‘Aboriginal’ when referring to descendants of the original inhabitants of Australia should always be spelt with a capital 'A'.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples/people
The formal, collective term for all people who identify and are recognised as descendants of the original inhabitants of Australia is ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’. Note the use of the lower case ‘p’.

The term ‘peoples’ is used to:
• connote distinct status, rights and meaning attached to continuing historical, cultural and social bonds, and attachments to land and identity
• reflect the determination of a distinct group to preserve, enhance and pass on to future generations their distinct identity, social institutions and cultures.

It reflects distinctiveness that attracts rights and freedoms under a range of United Nations (UN) instruments. In this context the use of the term ‘peoples’ in certain circumstances has specific messaging, for example: ‘the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’.

The terms are also used to recognise the many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups in Australia. For example, ‘The report will provide new insights into the nutritional health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ is correct usage.

For informal mentions where you need to use the collective singular form – more general descriptions – ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’ is acceptable. For example, ‘the University is encouraging more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to participate in tertiary study’ is correct usage.

Where appropriate, you can also refer to ‘Aboriginal people’ or ‘Torres Strait Islander people’. Individually, you would write ‘an Aboriginal person’ or ‘Torres Strait Islander person’.

Language to avoid

• Please avoid using ‘ATSI’ as an abbreviation for ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander’ in all cases.
• The term ‘Aborigine’ is an outdated reference and rarely used in modern contexts.
• Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people find it offensive to be described as ‘full blood’, ‘half caste’ or ‘quarter caste’ – these terms are unacceptable in all contexts.
• It is important to acknowledge that Indigenous peoples of the Torres Strait Islands have a separate linguistic and cultural identity to Aboriginal people (see Cultural context). The preferred name is ‘Torres Strait Islanders’ as a collective description of the various Torres Strait Islander groups. When referring to a specific individual or group, use the terminology of identity, for example ‘Meriam woman/man/people’. Abbreviations such as ‘Islander’ or ‘TSI’ should not be used.
• As mentioned above, please avoid using ‘Indigenous’ as an abbreviation for ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander’, except where it is absolutely essential to do so.

You can read the guide in full in the Editorial Style Guide.

Do you have any questions or queries that we don't answer in the guide? Please contact Martin Foster in the Marketing and Communications Division.