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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander 

Histories and Cultures

 

In 2013 SEAQ held a one day conference focussing on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Histories and Cultures. This event was very well attended and received by the participants.  Our keynote speaker, Associate Professor Tracey Bunda, Chair of Indigenous Studies at Deakin University presented an enlightening and comprehensive overview of the key, relevant historical and cultural information that teachers need to be aware of when teaching the “Australian Curriculum Cross-Curriculum Priority(CCP): Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures”.  Associate Professor Tracey Bunda was able to guide and lead teachers to understand the importance of working closely with culture educators in their local areas.  One of the highlights of the day was the participation of local Indigenous Educators from a range of school systems who shared ideas and processes for obtaining support when teaching the CCP.

Another highlight of the day was the enormous display of resources.  Now that teachers in all subject areas have to incorporate this CCP, many teachers found this display extremely useful.  While all of the displays were fantastic, the display provided by Vanessa Kerley from ‘Education Queensland’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Unit, Sub centre’ resources centre provided teachers with avenues for accessing resources irrespective of their school’s location. 

Notes from Assoc. Prof. Tracey Bunda’s conference address

Tracey Bunda is Associate Professor and Chair of Indigenous Studies at Deakin University. She is a Murri woman from Queensland – from the lands of the Ngugi/Wakka Wakka. She spoke both theoretically and practically about the teaching of Aboriginal histories and cultures. Her presentation involved a great deal of audience participation and sharing of ideas.  (We had hoped to have a Torres Strait Islander spokesperson to provide authentic cultural viewpoint, but he was unavailable because of cultural celebrations in the islands at the time of the conference).

One of the earliest audience questions asked was about teachers possibly avoiding important cultural teaching because they are fearful of not “getting it right” – asking themselves ‘Am I entitled to talk about cultural matters? Am I regarded as a perpetrator because of past actions?’ Tracey directed them to the AITSL standards (1.4 on strategies for teaching ATSI students, with illustrations, and 2.4 on respect and reconciliation - http://www.teacherstandards.aitsl.edu.au/OrganisationStandards/organisation ) under Professional Knowledge, and to the ACARA information about the organising ideas for the CCP.

1.                  Tracey used the headings of Location, Interrogation, Information and Transformation to frame the first part of her presentation. In terms of Location, she asked the audience if they could locate themselves in Aboriginal locations. Can we name whose land we are living on? She talked in terms of the multiple identities of Aboriginal people and that location is the main identifying factor. Students should know where their school is placed and who the people were who originally lived there.

She challenged the audience to interrogate the ‘gaps and absences’ in their knowledge of what information is required by teachers. To promote more positive attitudes, she suggested perhaps concentrating on an Aboriginal hero every week. Ideas about Information were provided by some of the other indigenous educators. One said that ‘there should be no more deficit thinking’, and we should talk inclusively about “our Aboriginal history”. She added that we have lost so much indigenous knowledge that we all could have benefitted from. Another mentioned a US book “We can’t teach what we don’t know: White teachers, Multicultural classrooms” (Howard, G and Banks, J), which includes reference to such things as using the required protocols, considering the things that distract from learning, leaving your prejudices outside, and needing to show respect for each culture. (The QSA website outlines the required protocols for Queensland -   (www.qsa.qld.edu.au/3035.html)

Finally we need to think about how we can transform our selves, the curriculum and the systems that we operate under - develop a more informed, more respectful approach to histories and cultures. She suggests starting with commonalities between cultural groups and then recognising the many different backgrounds of aboriginal people because of different contact histories, historically different political ideas, and events enacted in different locations within Australia.

2.                  The second part of Tracey’s presentation referred to Reciprocity, Reflexivity and Resources. Here she talked about the importance of developing a relationship with the local indigenous community, but reminded us that that it is a small community and not to make any relationship a burden on them. The elders who should be invited are not well resourced, may not have their own form of transport, and are often unwell. Because of past experiences and their own shyness, they do not find the school a friendly space. The people who can speak well are in great demand, but there should also be some reciprocity – If they are being used as a resource, what can the school give back to them?

One way is to set up a reconciliation plan for the school. (Reconciliation Australia – website http://www.reconciliation.org.au) .  Another way is to get Aboriginal people (locals and educators) to help write lesson plans. There is a great need to track the teaching of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures within the curriculum of a school to ensure there is no excessive repetition.

Tracey talked about the necessity of ensuring that we use quality resources. She and the other indigenous educators made the following suggestions about resources:

•·         Do not use the Creative Spirits website. By default, go to .edu websites

•·         Do not let children do dot paintings – for respect for the symbols used and because it is not a generic style used by all painters

•·         Use materials developed by aboriginal and islander writers where possible

•·         Local communities may have some resources they have developed

•·         Education Qld and Brisbane Catholic Education have lists of regional Aboriginal educators and EQ has an Indigenous Schooling Support Unit, and a resources centre at Inala

•·         The Kuril Daghun unit at State Library of Qld also has materials and knowledgeable people available and links to indigenous knowledge centres around the state

•·         Yugambeh Dreaming Centre (http://www.yugambeh.com/services.php).They promote cultural competency and indigenous engagement.

•·         Develop a plan at the beginning of the year to use Naidoc Week, Sorry Day (week?), Harmony Day, Mabo Day to highlight certain curriculum elaborations.

3.                  The third part of Tracey’s presentation was entitled Meta –Narratives: Knowledge, Race and Power, Social Justice and Citizenship; Sovereignty and Ethical practice. About Knowledge, she again referred to the existence of a tension existing in this country between western knowledge versus indigenous knowledges. She made a strong comment about Race and Power – Just teaching about culture is not enough. In many ways, race is more important and the intersection must be confronted. Students need to understand that race is a social construction and leads to unconscious stereotypes. Social justice and Citizenship for indigenous people in this country depend on the first two above – knowledge of indigenous cultures and their histories, along with the history of treatment according to race. Based on these, a necessary conversation can perhaps be had about Sovereignty and land. Ethical practice starts with acknowledgement of our commonalities. What and how can we decide on these?

 

 Resources

ABC Splash (primary): http://splash.abc.net.au/topic/-/t/494038/aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-histories-and-cultures

ABC Splash (sec) http://splash.abc.net.au/collection/-/c/618742/national-sorry-day

ABC - http://www.abc.net.au/indigenous/special_topics  http://www.abc.net.au/indigenous/map (locate indigenous groups on an interactive map)

Australian Curriculum- http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/crosscurriculumpriorities/Aboriginal-and-Torres-Strait-Islander-histories-and-cultures


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