Once upon a time the people who had control of formal education in colonised* Australia decided and declared that Indigenous people** were not capable of learning beyond the ages of 7 or 8. This, in part, was utilised to justify and explain why it was ‘in the best interest’ of both the state, and Indigenous people, to not only restrict Indigenous people from accessing formal education BUT also why Indigenous people should be controlled, viewed as ‘less than’ and trained and placed in roles of servitude as maids, and labourers.
This not only impacted Indigenous people, and government and educational policy at the time, but has impacted the narrative of modern Australian history, and the ways in which Indigenous people have historically been perceived and positioned within academic discourse and broader society. This practice and discourse was imposed upon Indigenous people/First Nations people not only in Australia but also around the world.
We are living today within the legacy of those early decisions, declarations and teaching regarding Indigenous people and education, and I keep this at the forefront of my mind when I consider what my role is and aims are as someone who now works as an academic and researcher in the area of formal education in Australia.
I do not work in a decolonized system, though changes and progress have been made.
I do not exist in a time where these intense wrongs against my people have been redressed, though they have surely been researched, and in recent years begun to be acknowledged.
The existence and slowly increasing presence of decolonising methodologies, and Indigenous researchers within the academy does not dismantle the impact of all those early papers and legislation which declared us as Indigenous people less capable and less worthy of education.
The definition and validation of what constitutes education and knowledge within Australia continues to be Eurocentric, though this has been and continues to be challenged by strong Indigenous people and allies
When I reflect upon my work, and my goals, I remember to consider the negative impact which the individuals who shaped formal education in colonised Australia have had. I sometimes wonder about the people behind those policies and practices – who guided by their own lens, belief of their own superiority, and agenda – declared the richly diverse, adaptive, and evolved cultures and people who had cared for and thrived on this land for some 40,000 to 65,000 continuous years, as ‘less than’ and ‘primitive’. I wonder about the ways these people continue to be glorified via monuments and a whitewashed telling of Australian history. I consider the ways in which academic papers live on, impacting the fabric of our society, policy agendas, and narrative of place. And I understand why, as Tracey Lindberg*** states, there are those of us Indigenous researchers who freeze up and pause prior to publication for fear of somehow harming our community. Academia and politics should not be undertaken lightly.
While I don’t believe that the heart and lens of an Indigenous researcher and educator, really in terms of impact to Indigenous community bares comparing to those early academic papers, political and legislative declarations by non-Indigenous people that have so disastrously impacted our people and land… I do believe that our work and publications can be just as influential, and potentially manipulated for harm.
Though I still have so much to learn, these reflections and concerns in part have impacted where and who I choose to work with. It matters deeply to me that the people I trust in my research role, show respect to each other and to the people and data who they ‘handle’ in their roles. With my interest and work primarily involving qualitative data, I follow the principle that each interview, and all data shared with me are to be treated with respect, reciprocity, and honour. They are word gifts which we must appreciate and care for.
I’m grateful for the ingrained practices I do notice within my current role and workplace, which while being a predominantly ‘white space’ (in that it is a higher education role, and I am the only Indigenous person in our team – I say this for context, not as criticism of the team I work with) is filled with many little things which indicate a core centre of respect, reciprocity, and acts which are conducive to genuine acknowledgment of country and history. That makes this a team I can work with, and work within.
For Indigenous academics and allies, within Australia and around the world, we have so much work to do. This work is a fight, a privilege, an honour, and not work I take lightly, but I’m so grateful to be an active participant in this journey of change and growth. I’m grateful for the strong Indigenous warriors who have fought in so many ways, including with their words, and I’m grateful for the kind mentors and people I work with daily.
*Colonised aka invaded
**Indigenous people in this blog is a term utilised to refer collectively to the many unique Nations, cultures and languages which exist on the land which is now referred to as ‘Australia’. I acknowledge that there is no term which can truly encompass this rich diversity, and acknowledge that the impacts of colonial policies and practices have had devastating effects on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
*** Tracey Lindberg is a legend, and also a Professor of Indigenous law and government at the University of Ottawa.