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Indigenous Perspectives in the Classroom

EDFD547: Diversity in the Classroom By Carli A. Bonavia
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Carli Bonavia

on 15 October 2012

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Transcript of Indigenous Perspectives in the Classroom

By Carli A. Bonavia Indigenous Perspectives in the Classroom The cultures and lifestyle of the Australian Indigenous people, often broken into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups is diverse even within those two groups. The Aboriginal Australian community is one that maintains many of its differences although many traditions and particularly many languages are being lost over time. (Nathan, 2012). There were once between four and seven hundred dialects of the twelve main language families but most of these are no longer in use, due to a combination of numerous factors. According to AUSTLANG only one hundred languages are in use today and only around twenty are used by all age groups. (Hayne, Marmion, McConvell, et al., 2008/2012). One of the major reasons for the decline of Australian languages include European settlement which impacted in several ways, the enforcement of English education on many students and the removal of children from their families stopped languages from being learned and thus continued. The extinction of certain peoples, such as those in Tasmania, meant that their languages were lost along with their lives. The loss of language is an important factor in Aboriginal culture as it is closely linked to the loss of other cultural ideas due to the oral nature of their cultures. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Culture The estimates at dating the arrival of Aboriginal people in Australia vary from 200, 000 BCE to 40, 000 years ago. Their long history in Australia and surrounding islands prior to European invasion is one of nomadic, hunter-gatherer societies that were dependent on the land, as physical and spiritual sustenance. While it is important to have a knowledge of life for Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders prior to European settlement the study of this ancient culture is diminished in importance when compared to the events following European settlement. (Henbest, 2012).
There are endless arguments and debates about the way that the colonisation of Australian and the actions of European settlers towards the indigenous population should be studied and taught in schools. These discussions are vital as they constantly uncover areas for improvement. History and Policy Some of the issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders include: Contemporary Issues May Minyingali Butcher Tells her Story Torres Strait Islanders Perform a Traditional Song and Dance for a Brother Leaving the Island
Central to Aboriginal Australians beliefs is their close relationship with nature and place. This is closely linked with the idea of the 'Dreaming' or 'Dreamtime'. This is a concept which can mean both a mythological time of creation for the Earth and its peoples as well as a contemporary spiritual belief or relationship to the land. There are many variations across Australia despite some common ideas with regards to the Dreamtime and how creation of various creatures and areas are said to have come about. The Rainbow Serpent is a particularly well known tale that is traditional to Arnhem Land that has been disseminated as though all Aboriginal communities value this tale. There are many other tales that feature animals and reinforce the powerful bond many Aboriginal people feel to their land. The people of the Torres Strait Islands have a belief system that is also linked closely to the land but also the sea as they were, and are, a seafaring people. Their beliefs also centre around Tagai the warrior, who can be seen as a constellation in his canoe and is tied intrinsically both the sea and sky. (Korff, 2012)
Indigenous music is used for many ceremonies and traditional celebrations. Song was used by specific groups as a history of family and land, these are often referred to as 'clan songs'. Music is used in different ways by different tribes but most use them as a celebration of birth, death and becoming an adult. The didgeridoo, a woodwind instrument, was used in the Northern Territory traditionally, and rarely seen in Victorian cultures, although 'clap sticks' used to keep rhythm was used almost nationally. Torres Strait Islanders have similar uses for music but their tradition is greatly influenced by the people of Papua New Guinea. Music by Aboriginal artists has expanded contemporaneously to encompass all genres and styles. (Aboriginal Arts, 2012).

Art is a vital part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, much of their art was and is directly related to nature, depicting the land, natural elements and animals, as well as images and figures from the Dreamtime. It was used to tell stories and give information, often in forms similar to maps. Techniques used include the famous dot paintings as well as engravings into stone or bark, and carvings into stone and wood to create sculptures and totems. Traditional forms of art are still created by many artists but many other contemporary artists have modified the their cultural styles and incorporated the techniques and aesthetics of other cultures. (AusEmade, 2012). The incontrovertible evidence of government policy that enacted various injustices and atrocities towards the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people is a primary source that provides insight into the people of the time. The large number of these policies is staggering but the most significant of those are the Commonwealth Constitution of 1901 which states 'In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted.' (Commonwealth of Australia, 1901/2011), the Aborigines Protection Act of 1909 which allowed for the forced removal of Indigenous children from their families (the Stolen Generation) and established the (Aborigines Protection Board. State of New South Wales, 1909/2012).
In 1948, the federal government expanded the classification of Australian citizens to all Australians, for the first time including Indigenous people, however not until 1962 were they given the right to vote in Commonwealth elections, although the White Australia Policy existed until 1972. (Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 2009) Despite prolonged efforts by various organizations, native title rights were not granted to the Aboriginal people of Australia and the Torres Strait Islanders until 1992 after the ruling of the case of Eddie Mabo v Queensland meant that the Meriam people of the Mer Islands held possession of that land. This case was a landmark for Indigenous rights and caused the creation of the Native Title Act in 1993 (The Parliament of Australia, 1993). establishing the rights for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to the ' possession, occupation, use and enjoyment of traditional country.' (Federal Court of Australia, 2010) Several amendments to this act were passed in the following years, some of which were criticized for reducing land rights.
The Northern Territory National Emergency Response, implemented in 2007, was a government policy which aimed to address the legal and welfare related issues, especially those relating to the abuse of children, that were found to be prevalent in some Indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. (Australian Government, 2007) It was heavily criticized however for disregarding the Racial Discrimination Act (Commonwealth of Australia, 1975/2004) and being rushed and populist as it was a major election issue. (ReconciliACTION Network, 2007). Substance Abuse Legal Issues Unemployment and Poverty Health Difficulties Education Racism Indigenous Perspectives in AusVELS The cross-curriculum approach English Humanities The abuse of drugs, both licit and illicit is common in certain Aboriginal and Torres Strait communities.
While there may be a misconception that alcohol is a huge problem in Aboriginal communities, the Australian Institute of Health and Wellbeing found in their 2011 report, 'Substance use among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people' that the numbers of people using alcohol to a hig or risky level was not significantly different to the numbers of non-Indigenous people. However they did find that the percentage of people who abstain from alcohol was considerably higher. The report found that those in remote areas were more likely to engage in binge drinking than those in non-remote areas. (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2011).
Illegal drugs that were found by the report to be most commonly used were marijuana, amphetamines and illicit pain killers. Just under a quarter of those involved in the report admitted to using an illegal substance in the two weeks prior to data collection. Petrol sniffing was more difficult to collect data on however the report writes that the prevalence of this act varies greatly between communities. It states that 'the subregions with the highest proportions of petrol sniffers were the South Central Australian subregion (16%) and the Ngaanyatjarra Lands in Western Australia (14%).'
Tobacco smoking was found to be a very frequent occurrence in Indigenous Australians, who were found to be twice as likely as non-Indigenous Australians to be regular smokers and those in remote areas or with very low incomes were found to have a much higher percentage of smokers. (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2008).
The study found that the treatments for substance abuse most commonly used by Indigenous and Torres Strait Islanders were traditional methods such as bush camps and aid from elders as well as family assistance or total abstinence. Less than a quarter would use other treatment methods such as Alcoholics Anonymous or cognitive behaviour therapy. (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2011 The health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders is heavily influenced by other factors affecting their lifestyle and living conditions. Many of these elements combine in different ways to present a poor, but improving, picture of Indigenous health. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare published a report in 2010 on the health of Indigenous Australians and Torres Strait Islanders which studies key indicators of health and use of the health system. (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2010). The report found that with the exception of ear disease among children, the health status of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was worse than that of non-Indigenous Australians.
The report found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders had a higher birth and death rate, a higher percentage of premature and low weight births however the number of teenage pregnancies was lower than the national rate.
It was found that while immunisation rate for both children and adult improved between 2004-5 and 2007-8 the number hospitalisations due to vaccine preventable diseases increased.
The report noted that many health conditions commonly seen in Indigenous Australians can be correlated to the high rates of household smokers, cases of imprisonment, poverty and quality of education. The low life expectancy of Indigenous Australians compared to non-Indigenous Australians, with a gap of almost 17 years, can be directly correlated to all of these issues. (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2010). Education with relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders is a two fold issue that various groups are continuously working on improving; the education of Indigenous people and the education of non-Indigenous people about the culture, history, traditions and issues of the Indigenous community.
Attempts at amending the second issue are under way in the National Curriculum and will be discussed in more detail.
The Australian Government is endeavoring to solve the problem of the education levels in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities through the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Action Plan for 2010-2014. (Ministerial Council for Education, Early Childhood: Development and Youth Affairs, 2010) This policy has four major goals which are then broken into various areas for improvement and action.
1. Involvement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Educational Decision-Making
2. Equality of Access to Education Services
3. Equity of Educational Participation
4. Equitable and Appropriate Educational Outcomes
(Australian Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, 2011).
The Policy aims to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians' education rates, in literacy and numeracy namely, as well as the completion rates for year twelve. (Secretariat for Church Life, 2012).
The key areas for improvement in this policy include enrolment, attendance, progression and retention. With regards to attendance the rates for government school in New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland in 2009 were at 85% while South Australia and Western Australia were approximately 80% and in the Northern Territory the rate was 70%. (ACARA, 2009). This shows a significant difference between the more urban states and the rural ones, something is figured in the policy with the equality of access goal. (Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, 2012) Of all the interrelated issues that affect Indigenous communities, unemployment is something that connects with every other area of life and as such, is vitally important as an indicator of other areas and how action strategies are progressing.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics notes that the National Australian unemployment rate is 5.4%, their data for the Indigenous population reveals the unemployment rate at 8%. (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012). A large difference can also be seen in the income for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders compared to the non-Indigenous income, the 2006 census data shows that the average Indigenous income is only 62% of the average non-Indigenous income.(Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2011). This gap was greater in remote or very remote areas and lesser in major cities and regional areas. The figures have grown for Indigenous income however, between the 2001 and 2006 census the average income grew by 9%. (ABS, 2011)
The diagram to the right shows the percentages of Indigenous households with incomes in the highest quintile ($1078 or more per week). It is very significant that there are very few of these in the remote areas of the Northern Territory and Western Australia which is revelatory of the employment status of many in those areas and problematic for other indicators of wellbeing. However, Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia have a larger percentage of highest quintile households, possibly in accordance with the more urban environment. (ABS, 2010)
Some of the reasoning behind the evident difference between Indigenous and non-Indigenous income and employment can be traced to past government policy of cultural assimilation and marginalisation and racism at the hands of the larger Australian community as well as this poverty intermingling with the poor standard of Indigenous education, health and other social issues such as substance abuse. The legal issues facing many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are numerous but also varied greatly. Overall the crime rate in the Indigenous population is greatly higher than that of the non-Indigenous population. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has found that a quarter of Australia's prison population is of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island descent despite them accounting for less than 2.5% of the population of the country. The gender ratio for Indigenous and other prisoners is essentially level at just over 90% male. (ABS, 2011)
Most criminal convictions involving Indigenous people are violent crimes. Child abuse is also prevalent among certain Aboriginal and Torres Strait peoples, neglect is the highest occurring abuse, followed by emotional, physical and then sexual abuse. (Anderson, Nicholson and Wild, 2007). Substance abuse has a huge impact on crime in all communities, not only the Torres Strait or Aboriginal, particularly the use of illicit drugs. the link between drug use and violence is substantiated by much evidence. (Australian Institute of Family Studies, 2012).
As all of the contemporary issues listed are interconnected, poverty has a huge impact on crime rates and the high percentage of Indigenous households living on very low incomes or unemployment inevitably affects the number of crimes committed and the number of incarcerations.
The death of Indigenous people while in police custody is an issue that has been heavily discussed and caused much controversy since the 1980s. The 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in custody were of a similar rate to those of non-Indigenous people, particularly considering the high proportion of Indigenous people in gaol. It continues to be a contentious issue especially following the death in custody of Mulrunji Doomadgee on Palm Island in 2004 and the court ruling that the officer in charge was found not guilty of manslaughter in 2007. Riots were sparked by the coroners report in the man's death and unrest followed the court ruling also. (Hooper, 2008). Despite the assertions of many politicians that Australia is not a racist country it is very apparent to all that discrimination occurs everyday and many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders suffer from this daily. The impact of this discrimination has been linked to various mental and physical health issues among Indigenous Australians. (Korff, 2012)
Ignorance of the truth of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experience, experience which is as varied and different as it is important, is a major cause for the prejudice against Indigenous Australians. Stereotyping in the media and politics can be the only exposure some people may have to Indigenous voices and although it is not always in a negative way, it is never in a 'normal' way. There are always extremes portrayed, this is particularly true of news and current affairs programs. (Gridley, 2009).
The video above shows an advertisement featuring an Aboriginal family, but a family like any other. These kinds of portrayals are rare which feeds misconceptions about Indigenous Australians, essentially promoting the racist views that many people hold.
A medium that many Australians are exposed to many different peoples, in particular Indigenous Australians, is sport and Australian Rules football specifically. Former Sydney Swans player Michael O'Loughlin has been quoted as saying 'Sport was the first pathway that embraced Aboriginal people and gave them the opportunity to compete on an equal playing field.' (quoted in Korff, 2012) O'Loughlin runs the GO Foundation with Michael Goodes, another Aboriginal AFL player, which promotes dialogue and reporting of racism in AFL as well as aid Indigenous Australians achieve their goals. (Cordy, 2012) The AFL runs many programs which aim to assist Indigenous people through the health and community building act of playing sport. (Australian Football League, 2012)
While racism is still very common with each generation and with every person who stands up to those who make racist jokes, use derogatory language and discriminate based on race things are improving and moving towards the day when racism no longer oppresses any people. Office of Road Safety Fatigue Advertisement
Reveals how simple it can be to incorporate Indigenous actors into television, without reference to race. Adam Goodes and Michael O'Loughlin, founders of the GO Foundation. (Image: Barker, 2012) Nicky Winmar, former Australian Football League player for St Kilda Football Club made a powerful statement after enduring racist abuse from supporters and players during a match against Collingwood in 1993. Following the end of the game, in which St Kilda won, Winmar lifted his jumper and pointed to the colour of his skin beneath, a compelling forceful show of pride and a refusal to accept the intolerance and cruelty inflicted upon many Indigenous people. (Ludbey, 2012. Image: W. Ludbey, 1993) 'The Sapphires' (2012) is a film that tells the story of the all Aboriginal girl group in the 1960s. The film showcases some fantastic Indigenous talent and tells a tale about strong Aboriginal women. It touches on issues of racism and links them directly to social justice issues in the United States of America, a topic which receives much greater media coverage, even in Australia. (Hopscotch Films, 2012 [image]). Bibliography The Australian Curriculum and it's current form as AusVELS in Victoria includes three cross-curriculum study areas, there are:
1. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures
2. Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia
3. Sustainability
These three topics will be studied by all subject areas and using all methodologies. The cross-curriculum areas are meant to develop a complete and rounded understanding of each in the students and provide a base around which all other knowledge may locate itself. (Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Association, 2011)
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures study area aims to provide students with an understanding of the lives of the First Australians, from their first arrival on this land right up to the present day. Central to this cross-curricular study are three ideas; people, culture and country/place. Students will learn about the Indigenous identity and can develop their own understanding of Australia as a country with a larger past, one that encompasses Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experience, lifestyle and beliefs. Just as the three major elements of the study are interrelated, students will come to learn that all life in Australia is interconnected with that of the Indigenous communities and that just as all people are different so too are all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. (Reconciliation Australia, 2010)
'Organising Ideas' have been used to structure the cross-curriculum study, there are nine of these OIs which are categorized under people, culture or country/place. The ideas are very broad however and rather filled with pleasantries, while it may be difficult to address the many atrocities inflicted upon Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders after European settlement there seems to be little room for discussion of these sorts of topics in the structure set out by AusVELS. In earlier years of schooling it is obvious that students would be unable to understand complex issues such as the Stolen Generation but it is still a vital part of acknowledging the history of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The cross-curriculum structure must be carefully enacted to ensure that it is not simply a vague, amorphous study but one that is deep and covers all areas. (VCAA, 2011)
In having a cross-curricular approach to studying Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures the syllabus is able to avoid trivialising learning about our Indigenous communities and build an understanding that the Australian population and culture is embedded with Indigenous culture at all times, not only in NAIDOC week or other token celebrations. It is more all encompassing and rounded, to promote acceptance, equality and banish ignorance and racism. (Aveling, (2006). In the subject area of English the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander study has great potential in exposing students to the wide range and rich literature of Indigenous Australians as well as being able to explore different Englishes and forms of language. It can be used to develop the three areas of English identified in the curriculum; language, literature and literacy.
There is many areas in the AusVELS curriculum for years 7-10 that could feature more Indigenous perspectives, even by simply using Aboriginal or Torres Strait writers and voices. One example of this is the year seven outcome ACELY1719: Identify and discuss main ideas, concepts and points of view in spoken texts to evaluate qualities, for example the strength of an argument or the lyrical power of a poetic rendition. This could very easily use an oral storytelling from a Indigenous community member in the schools local area. Little things like this can embed the feeling of community deeper and also think critically about the way different cultural groups use language. (VCAA, 2012)
By studying the creoles used in any Aboriginal and Torres Strait communities students will be able to both expand their vocabulary and acknowledge the amorphous nature of language, and appreciate the value added to the English language when combined with other lexicons. (Tripcony, 2007)
Texts by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, not only traditional tales but contemporary also, allow for students to engage with the study of historical and social contexts that work within texts and critically analyse authors' uses of language and the effects created by its differing uses and contextual settings. (Thomas, 2008)
To make the most of this cross-curriculum study approach, references to Indigenous voices should be made as frequently as possible. As the Humanities is broken into three key study areas in years 7-10 but only the History component of the Australian curriculum has been published it is difficult to predict how the cross-curricular studies will look in the finished document but AusVELS does provide some information in this regard. As AusVELS separates these three areas it is simpler to look at each individually rather than Humanities as a whole. (VCAA, 2012) History
History has huge possibilities for cross-curricular study, learning about people, culture and country/place is intrinsically linked with history and the study of the past. As the world's oldest living culture, fascinating opportunities exist for study of change and continuity and the processes of time. The tradition of both oral and visual history among Indigenous cultures can be used very well as a study of sources and to gain information for contextual learning. (VCAA, 2012) Political and social changes can also be uncovered through the lens of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights, something which can open a multitude of possibilities for directions in which students may explore. (Parkes, 2007) Geography
Indigenous perspectives can be incorporated incredibly well with the study of geography. The use of Aboriginal mapping which developed the 'bird's eye view' style of mapping areas can be fascinating and an excellent introduction to other geospatial studies. The close ties that both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have to country and land provides excellent opportunities for looking at the way societies are shaped by their environment and the impact humans have had on natural habitats, including settlement patterns, agriculture and the development of cities. (VCAA, 2012) The wide range of communities of Indigenous people across Australia and the Torres Strait Islands are good examples of differing ways people live in relation to their surrounds. (Australian Museum, 2010) Economics
Economics may seem difficult to bring in Indigenous perspectives but the philosophies of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders with relation to land ownership, community living and sustainability in business can enrich the study of economics greatly. Viewing government policies regarding Aboriginal land rights can also bring about discussion of the nature of property ownership and tie in with studies of imperialism, capitalism and other economic philosophies that are vital to understanding the way the economic world operates. (VCAA, 2012)
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