Discovering Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, Culture, Language and Education system from the NT
He mihi tēnei ki a koutou te Iwi Larrakia. I wish to pay homage to the Larrakia Nation and to their ancestors of the past, present and future for allowing this visitor from Aotearoa New Zealand, to walk upon this land.
As a Visiting Scholar from the University of Auckland, I have been hosted for the past 6 weeks by Associate Professor James Smith and the ‘Whole Community Engagement’ (WCE) team from Charles Darwin University who have been very generous with their time, energy and resources. I was most fortunate to spend a week in Maningrida with the WCE team and Aboriginal people from Northern Territory communities. I wish to acknowledge Dean Yibarbuk, his family and the Dhukurrdji Clan, for allowing me time on their country.
During the presentations and discussions that took place in Maningrida, it was clear that the WCE team and Aboriginal community researchers have worked hard to strengthen the educational needs and aspirations of communities by developing strategies and pathways that enable mentoring in schools, encourage adults into higher learning, maintain language and culture in education and, through interviews, gather knowledge on Aboriginal leadership. I heard how partnerships were developed with communities, schools, councils and organisations in order to enable the maintenance of Aboriginal languages, cultures.
Clearly, the maintenance of relationships within the complex kinship system is a vital part of keeping Aboriginal languages and cultures alive, and self-management and self-determination are key concepts that must be implemented for the ultimate preservation of cultural knowledge. New Zealand Māori also continue to strive for tino rangatiratanga/self-determination and for the maintenance of language, culture, values and traditions. It was the near death of the Māori language that resulted in the establishment of kura kaupapa Māori in 1989, a schooling initiative started by Māori parents and families. Māori is the language of communication and instruction within kura kaupapa Māori where curriculum learning is applied from a Māori cultural perspective with recognition of traditional values and knowledge. While many Māori parents want their children to grow up immersed in a Māori language educational environment they also expect their children to learn English literacy and numeracy skills.
The aim of children having a strong cultural identity, of being bilingual and bicultural or multilingual and multicultural, in order to contribute and participate in the modern world seems to be shared by Aboriginal people too. I listened to an elder’s plea for his people’s language and culture to be implemented into school programmes alongside the learning of English literacy skills. Respect for culture and language was a strong theme underpinning discussions about education from Early Childhood learning to the level of adult education.
Sadly, my time in this sunny, warm country is coming to an end. In thinking about my days here, I can see there are major differences between Aboriginal and Māori peoples’ histories, experiences, languages, cultures and traditions but we hold the same vision, that of our children going forth into the world with their heads held high, carrying both Indigenous and western knowledges, and their hearts filled with the values and traditions of their own people. I am impressed and inspired by the tenacity and the fortitude demonstrated by the WCE team and the community researchers as they have worked collaboratively towards positive goals. I sincerely hope that future governments can continue funding this important venture.
Written by Dr. Kīmai Tocker. Visiting Scholar from the Faculty of Education and Social Work, University of Auckland, New Zealand