Indigenous knowledges are the creative inheritances of more than 5,000 cultures in more than 70 countries. The inter-generational transmission of these knowledges has sustained the oldest continuing cultures in the world. Meaningful Indigenous education seeks to recognise both Indigenous knowledges and our ways of knowing our worlds.
Indigenous knowledges are inscribed into the essence of all land-, water- and sky-scapes on Country. Sustaining living knowledges is indivisible from sustaining Country. These knowledges reveal to us how Indigenous peoples have belonged to Country for millennia. As Dr Yunupingu (2016, np) teaches us, “…we are here with our songs, our ceremonies, our land, our language and our people – our full identity. What a gift this is that we can give you, if you choose to accept us in a meaningful way”. Indigenous knowledges are a gift.
Indigenous education embodies a journey through Country, to allow Country to speak and Indigenous peoples to speak for Country. Indigenous knowledges should be carried by the sound of our own voices. Teaching and learning Indigenous knowledges as content within disciplines, and not as our ways of knowing, disembodies them from Country. Within the discipline of Indigenous Studies, scholars are exploring new methods of Indigenous education which protect and preserve the contextual integrities of our creative inheritances.
The Matariki Network of Universities (MNU) represents a group of seven universities which collaborate to develop international best practice in education, including Indigenous education. This network was formed in 2010 between UWA; Dartmouth College, US; Durham University, UK; Queen's University, Canada; University of Otago, New Zealand; University of Tubingen, Germany; and Uppsala University, Sweden.
The Matariki Indigenous Student Mobility Program (MISMP) creates unique opportunities for two-week on-Country education for Indigenous students in this network. The purpose of MISMP is to consolidate our collaborative research about decolonising Indigenous education, expand our global network of Indigenous scholars, and mentor next generation Indigenous scholars in our teaching and learning. MISMP itself is research about new methods of Indigenous education, collectively determined by Indigenous scholars facilitating the program.
This year, Indigenous students from UWA, with academics from the School of Indigenous Studies, journeyed to Queen’s University in Kingston to learn about Indigenous knowledges in a Canadian context. MISMP was hosted by Dartmouth College in 2018, UWA in 2017 and the University of Otago in 2016. This on-Country education, based on relationship and reciprocity with Indigenous Elders and knowledge holders, reflects a resurgence of Indigenous education which recognises both Indigenous knowledges and our ways of knowing our worlds.
MISMP 2019 explored the diverse and complex intersections between land, language and learning. The Indigenous students from UWA engaged in cultural diplomacy, visited Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee communities and Indigenous knowledge-keeping places in Ontario, and learned about significant Indigenous issues in Canada, including the recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The students also contributed to a research conference at Queen’s and presented about the significance of land, language and learning for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
This cultural diplomacy and global exchange of Indigenous knowledges at MISMP contribute to more lucid understandings of how Indigenous peoples belong to Country in an international context, and the interrelationship between land, language and learning. It also mentors and encourages Indigenous students to voice their own knowledges, in an exchange of teaching, learning and dialogue.
The School of Indigenous Studies has created many opportunities for Indigenous students to experience on-Country education. Students have also travelled to South America, Southeast Asia and the Pacific to learn about Indigenous knowledges in international contexts. In 2019, students will also journey to Bali, Indonesia, for on-Country education about Indigenous development and sustainability.
During MISMP 2019, the Indigenous students from UWA celebrated the lead up to NAIDOC Week on Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee Country. The theme ‘Voice. Treaty. Truth: let’s work together for a shared future’, acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are calling for meaningful recognition in Australia. Recognising Indigenous peoples involves recognising their knowledges, ways of knowing, and rights to speak for Country. As the Uluru Statement asserts, “In 1967 we sought to be counted. In 2017 we seek to be heard”.
Indigenous voices are ancient ones. In the 21st century, these voices continue to teach us about belonging to Country. Yet as Irene Watson (2005, p. 1) asks us, “when we are speaking into a colonised space how are Aboriginal voices captured, echoed, ricocheted, distilled? Where does that voice of our old people go?” Indigenous Studies seeks to not only recognise these voices, but their knowledges and ways of knowing, to protect and preserve their contextual integrities for next generations.
Watson, I (2005), ‘Settled and unsettled spaces: Are we free to roam?’, Australian Critical Race and Whiteness Studies Association, 1, pp 40-52.
Yunupingu, G 2016, ‘Rom Watangu’, The Monthly, July. Available from: https://www.themonthly.com.au/issue/2016/july/1467295200/galarrwuy-yunupingu/rom-watangu
Lecturer, School of Indigenous Studies