A message to educators working in Indigenous Education: A change easily implemented is easily discarded

The Indigenous education space is often a challenging environment for schools and educators. When I speak with educators I can sense that they are navigating a space that is fraught with danger. Will I offend someone? Am I teaching content that is authentic? How do I connect with Indigenous people? I don’t want to contribute to negative stereotypes, so maybe it is best that I do nothing. I feel for educators, it’s tough. You must manage timetables, lesson plans, new curriculum, old curriculum, reporting, pastoral care, late nights, grading and the expectation that you must be happy every day (No matter how tired you are).  Then, in 2008 ACARA decided to roll out Indigenous culture as a cross-curriculum priority and brilliant educators, who are at best equipped with a ‘semesters’ worth of Indigenous studies at university (most likely being taught from a non-Indigenous perspective) were instantly expected to be experts and solve Australia’s biggest political problem. Good luck!

Let’s be honest with each other. You are not the problem. It’s not your fault that we are in this situation and I know that you are all doing your best. I always encourage educators to continue to deepen their understanding of us (Indigenous Australians) and persist with implementing authentic Indigenous education in your school. I know that this is not easy, I work in this space with you and know the barriers that stop us from making the changes that bring true equality. There’s no simple solution and it is not easy, but what change is?

In my opinion, the biggest mistake that schools make when implementing Indigenous education is their starting point. Most schools start reconciliation by either focussing on recruiting Indigenous students, designing and implementing curriculum or through an ‘Indigenous experience’ such as visiting Uluru, Jabiru or any of the many central and northern Indigenous communities. As a starting point, all three of these examples are the wrong method for implementing Indigenous education and achieving reconciliation.

The reason schools start their Indigenous education and reconciliation journeys in the three areas I mentioned above is because they are highly visible methods of demonstrating that the school is involved in reconciliation. In my experience, and through the shared experiences of my Indigenous networks there are many stories of schools failing to keep Indigenous students enrolled at their school, schools teaching incorrect and non-authentic Indigenous curriculum and disruptive trips into Indigenous communities that have no long-term benefits for the Indigenous community. When schools fail at these things it is not the school that suffers it is Indigenous people who suffer. We are the ones whose students return back to the community without their VCE, we are the ones who have highly educated misinformed people make decisions for us and we are the ones who have schools come into our communities for two weeks, take some photos, take some culture and leave.

I don’t want educators or schools to read this and think that I am having a go at them. I want you to read this and see that you need to be critical of what you are doing and ask yourself if you are truly listening to the Indigenous voice?  Who are the key Indigenous advisors for your school and do you listen to their advice? Is every aspect of your Indigenous education program focusing on obtaining results that will lead towards the disappearance of the gap of Indigenous disadvantage? If they are not focusing on closing the gap, then what is the point of having an Indigenous education program? For me, the only reason I work in education (other than loving being a teacher) is that I believe that education is the pathway for creating a better future for my people. I want a world where we are not dying 10 years younger than non-Indigenous people. I want to live in a country where no Indigenous people die in the custody of the police (Since 1991, 341 Indigenous people have died in police custody). I don’t want to be part of the most incarcerated people on Earth. I want a better future for my kids and I need schools and teachers to play a significant role in helping achieve equality for Indigenous people.

The journey in closing the gap of disadvantage and achieving reconciliation does not begin with the highly visible fun activities. It begins with putting in the work. The work that helps us build our knowledge. Work that creates the foundation for learning, that creates a better future, is based on truth and focuses on self-development.  School’s should start their journeys of reconciliation with cultural training for everyone that works at school. From the principal to the part time cleaner and even the school board, because reconciliation is everyone’s responsibility and if a school is serious about fixing the problem then they must be brave enough to do it in the right way. The second thing schools need to do is to consult with Indigenous education organisations and people. Indigicate is one of many organisations that provide truthful conversations and support to help schools navigate this space. We are not the only ones, there are many highly skilled Indigenous consultants and educators who specialise in cultural training. Make sure you ask for methods to assist with closing the gap and not just a history lesson.

My message to teachers is that you are not alone. We are here to work with you and help you. It’s not always going to be easy and it’s certainly not going to be a quick fix. Take the advice of this Indigenous man and trust that there are tremendous strength and beauty in the Indigenous culture and that we need to continually find ways to listen to each other.  Please do this the right way, because my future literally depends on it.

Shawn Andrews-Indigicate CEO

Heading picture- A letter from grade six students at Montmorency South PS. Below- the back of the letter. An empathetic apology from the year sixes. Indigicate has worked with Montmorency South PS for over four years facilitating professional development for teachers, incursions and working with other Indigenous leaders during their country and culture day.  This is a demonstration of what reconciliation looks like.

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