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Aboriginal Curriculum

Indigenising curricula

Indigenous scholars worldwide have long argued that universities ought to be institutions which, as investigators and custodians of knowledge, to be inclusive and representative of Indigenous epistemologies, methodologies and pedagogies. Such endeavours are favourable not only for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students having instruction in their own culture and tradition, but also in having non-Indigenous students be exposed to and explore Indigenous lifeworlds and knowledge systems. Furthermore, considering the ongoing consequences of colonisation through normalised racism towards Indigenous people, prevalence of misconceptions, and the dismissal of their culture, the University, as a shaper of predispositions and knowledge has an obligation contribute to the amelioration of such ideological and attitudinal concerns.

The inclusion of Indigenous epistemes and pedagogies are too important in the formation of professionals who will interact with Aboriginal people, such as teachers, medical personnel, social workers, and solicitors. These individuals require an understanding of Indigenous perspectives, as well as discipline and profession-specific practice, in order to best interact with and provide service for Aboriginal people and communities.

What is the Indigenisation of Curricula?

Curricula Indigenisation involves the embedding of both Indigenous epistemes (knowledge) and content into the units offered within a degree program alongside existing disciplinary knowledge and content. Curricula Indigenisation is also more than the inclusion of cultural knowledge or experiences; it is a scholarly endeavour framed around Indigenous scholarship, This incorporation is undertaken as a means of providing students with instruction in, and subsequently insight to, both the depth of Indigenous knowledge and perspectives, and how these can be used to understand the world and address global issues (Yunkaporta 2019). In turn, it is designed so that students will develop a greater appreciation and respect for Indigenous people and culture, have any held misconceptions and prejudices challenged, and be greater equipped to interact with and serve Indigenous people both in their employment (viz. through discipline-specific content such as in social work) and personal lives (viz. in holding greater understanding of Indigenous lifeworlds). The component of Curricula Indigenisation are presented in Figure 1 below.

Figure 1: Curricula Indigenisation Framework in part adopted from the work of Bodkin-Andrews et al. (2019: 6)

Indigenisation is distinct from de-colonisation on the grounds that it involves the inclusion of Indigenous knowledge and content, whilst de-colonisation seeks to remove colonial ideologies and practices from university education. Indigenisation is preferred given that universities, and the disciplines there offered, are inherently Western in nature; cannot be removed of these influences in their entirety (Alfred 2012).

Importantly, in order for Indigenisation to take place both Indigenous epistemes and content ought be included within units. The key distinction is that Indigenous epistemology involves students ‘learning from’ Indigenous people whilst content involves the ‘learning about’ Indigenous people (Hart et al. 2012:717; Harvey and Russell-Mundine 2019: 800-801). As such, it is not enough for Indigenous topics to be integrated in a standalone lecture as has been the custom in the past. For example, an Indigenised sociology unit would cover issues as to Indigenous health and inequality (content) as well as provide instruction on Indigenous perspectives and practices of health and wellbeing.

This process tends to include the use of Indigenous pedagogy (e.g. yarning), discipline-specific skill acquisition (e.g. cultural safety for legal practitioners), and assessments (e.g. reflexive tasks). Typically, it involves a collaborative teaching model between Indigenous and non-Indigenous academics and, where relevant, traditional knowledge holders and practitioners.

The Process of Curricula Indigenisation

There is no universally agreed process for curricula Indigenisation, but a review of the literature suggests that it tends to involve the following stages:

  • Commitment: A commitment at a faculty university-governance level, accompanied by the appointment of relevant accountable staff and setting of timelines and policies.
  • Consultation and Collaboration: Undertaken with Indigenous knowledge holders, scholars, University’s Indigenous support unit staff, elders and community members.
  • Planning and Creation: Audits undertaken to identify how courses can be Indigenised and who can assist in this process at the departmental/school-level.
  • Implementation: Introduced over time in collaboration with Indigenous scholars
  • Reassessment/Revision: Evaluation and revision from students and Indigenous and non-Indigenous academic staff in collaboration with wider collaborative group.

More specifically the process involves the integration of:

  • Indigenous knowledge and perspectives: i.e. learning from Indigenous people.
  • Discipline-specific Indigenous content: i.e. Indigenous criminology professional practice
  • Reflexive Practice: To encourage critical reflexivity amongst students on their engagement with and relation to Indigenous knowledge, people and concerns.
  • Evaluative Assessment: i.e. presence of student understanding of Indigenous worldview
  • Graduate Attributes: To have units oriented towards having students trained in cultural competency and familiar with Indigenous content and issues.
  • Pedagogy: Use of Indigenous pedagogy such as yarning circles and storytelling.

Case Study 1: University of Newcastle

Collins-Gearing and Smith (2016) describe effort to Indigenise the English curricula through the gradual introduction of Indigenous texts within their English units at the University of Newcastle, with a focus on two courses. The first involved the creation of an Indigenous literature unit, wherein students would examine Indigenous texts, particularly Story About Feeling (Neidjie 1989). A children’s literature unit was selected to incorporate Indigenous content and knowledge, noting that there was not insignificant resistance from students. Within this course Indigenous literature was discussed over two weeks, including My Girragundji (McDonald and Pryor 1998) and Two Mates (Prewett 2012), wherein students are required to undertake a discourse analysis to examine underlying beliefs and ideologies of these texts and how it relates to Indigenous perspectives, namely to country, enabling the discussion of Indigenous issues and perspectives.

Case Study 2 University of Adelaide

Nursey-Bray (2019: 332-333) provides examples of how this was undertaken across two units. Within the ‘Introduction to Geography, Environment and Population’, a 1st-year foundations unit, one ‘session’ was dedicated to Indigenous people through the use of storylines and narratives, which were produced with the assistance of the Indigenous reference group, including:

‘These narratives include: (i) Indigenous peoples in Tasmania are extinct; (ii) Native Title means takeover of “Australian” freehold land; (iii) Indigenous people are primitive; (iv) that Australia was settled not invaded; and (v) Indigenous peoples should “get over it”, and move on, to name a few. I used these key discourses as motifs by which to present real stories that explored the same information I had delivered in previous sessions, but in a way that provided other information that disrupted and disproved key (often racist) assumptions’ Nursey-Bray (2019: 333).

In the unit ‘Indigenous Peoples and the Environment’ the epoch narrative approach was used, drawing from stories from time on country and work experience received there.

Case Study 3 University of South Australia

Ranzin et al. (2008) describe the embedding of Indigenous content within the undergraduate psychology degree. The scholars describe the process entailed the formation of a mandatory Indigenous unit covering colonisation and culture (run by the university’s Indigenous studies department together with the psychology department, tailored specifically for psychology students), creating a first-year elective unit (‘Psychology and Indigenous Australians’, also run in partnership as above), and embedding Indigenous content throughout the other courses in the psychology units (Ranzin 2008:134). In describing the compulsory unit, roughly 40% of lectures were reportedly given by Indigenous people. Around half of the unit’s teaching time was apportioned to the exploration of Indigenous history, contemporary culture/society and colonisation, 35% afforded to examining Indigenous people and their relation with psychology (namely the history of the profession with Indigenous people, trauma etc.), and the remaining in examining issues and attitudes pertaining to racism, whiteness, reflexivity and developing competency to work with Indigenous people and communities.

Recommended Reading

Antoine, A, Mason, R, Mason, R, Palahicky, S and Rodriguez de France (2018) Pulling Together: A Guide for Curriculum Developers. Victoria, BC: BCcampus.

Guerzoni, M. A. (2020) Indigenising the Curriculum: Context, Concepts and Case Studies. Office of the Pro-Vice Chancellor of Aboriginal Leadership, University of Tasmania: Hobart.

Kuokkanen, R. (2007). Reshaping the University: Responsibility, Indigenous Epistemes, and the Logic of the Gift. Vancouver, UBC Press.

Mihesuah, D. and A. Wilson (2004). Indigenizing the Academy: Transforming Scholarship and Empowering Communities. London, University of Nebraska Press.

Nakata, M. (2007). "The Cultural Interface." The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education 36(1): 7-14.

Rigney, L. (2017). A Design and Evaluation Framework for Indigenisation of Australian Universities. Indigenous Pathways, Transitions and Participation in Higher Education: From Policy to Practice. J. Frawley, S. Larkin and J. Smith. Open Access, Springer Open: 45-64.

Riley, L., et al. (2013). "Embedding Aboriginal Cultural Knowledge in Curriculum at University Level Through Aboriginal Community Engagement." Seeding Success in Indigenous Australian Higher Education Diversity in Higher Education 14: 251-276.

Yunkaporta, T. (2019). Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World. Melbourne, The Text Publishing Company.

Zubrzycki, J., et al. (2014). Getting it Right: Creating Partnerships for Change. Integrating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges in social work education and practice. Sydney, Teaching and Learning Framework.

What we need to do

To make the University of Tasmania known as one of Australia’s leading tertiary institutions in its provision of Indigenous knowledge and cultural content in its curricula, and in producing graduates who are competent with Indigenous perspectives, issues and cultural safety. To achieve this, we need additional Indigenous experts employed across the disciplines, and an annual evaluation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander related curricula to confirm progress and quality in the embedding of Indigenous content across our courses in some form. It will be our aim to have to have Indigenous knowledge embedded in 50% of all courses by 2024.

How we can make a difference?

There is one overarching goal that we must undertake to ensure learning and teaching at the University of Tasmania aligns with the strategic plan, this is the rolling out of the curricula Indigenisation process across curricula and recourses throughout the university. There are several actions flagged to achieve this goal, these include, but are not limited to:

  • That an Indigenisation Committee is to oversee and guide Indigenisation of curriculum across all areas of the university;
  • Ensuring that each College undertake an audit of Indigenous content and perspectives noting how their units could receive the embedding of such material;
  • That annual dialogue be undertaken between Faculties on embedding Indigenous content within their curricula, and for a formal evaluation of progress be provided to University Senate;
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation on Course Advisory Committees;
  • Encourage all teaching staff to identify and offer support for Aboriginal students within their courses
  • Build upon and roll out additional Palawa-based units within the Humanities and Social Sciences.

Aboriginal Higher Education Advisor

The Tasmanian Institute of Learning and Teaching (TILT) employs an Aboriginal Higher Education Advisor to provide institutional leadership in the development of curriculum encompassing Aboriginal issues across the whole of the University, including training for staff and students in cultural awareness and related issues. The position has a key strategic role in effective development and delivery of whole-of-university strategy and associated initiatives in curriculum development related to Aboriginal knowledge and values, within the broader context of the Learning and Teaching strategic plan and Social Inclusion plan.

The Aboriginal Higher Education Advisor engages with the Aboriginal communities in Tasmania at a senior level to foster community input into, the University. The Advisor also provides strategic advice on Aboriginal issues to the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Students and Education) and is a member of the Division of Students and Education Management Team. Contributing at a national level to Aboriginal issues through research, teaching, and/or scholarship is seen as crucial to this role.

For more information

For further information regarding Aboriginal Curriculum and staff and student training in cultural awareness and related issues at the University of Tasmania please contact:

Associate Professor Clair Andersen
Email: Clair.Andersen@utas.edu.au
Telephone: +61 3 6226 2517