8 things you should know when teaching Indigenous culture
July 22, 2019
Author: Jade Pearson
Host from 11th July – 18th July 2019
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Indigenous education is so much more than some dot art and a ‘cultural’ song you found from the Wiggles.
The question for me all these years of sending my children into schools has always been where does Indigenous culture belong within the system?
Who should teach it and how is it taught?
This question reveals itself every year when Naidoc week comes around or that annual “Aboriginal parents morning tea”.
The morning teas are usually an information session as opposed to a discussion about what outcomes we like or expect for our children.
(And yes, these are OUR children, not yours so please stop phrasing it that way).
I would love it if teachers would start with a welcoming discussion of how would you like for this year to go with your children. Also to ask us if we could recommend anyone in the community for additional resources or any place that could recommend these, then at the end have a discussion about what the teachers had written down to plan. If you do it this way it ensures you’ve really engaged the parents and you respect their opinion. When we come last we feel that you have a plan and you will not waver on this or take on our considerations or recommendations.
What I’ve realised is that the children’s daycare and primary schools are singing the same songs, doing the same activities and trying to implement things that have little impact on what expands children’s knowledge of Indigenous peoples. They should be stocking up on resources.
This does not include doing some dot art that you have no idea what the meanings are, or letting girls decorate a Yidaki or singing a “cultural” song you found from the Wiggles. There are people in your area that you can have help sing songs in the language where you’re from, which will enrich your children more.
I know starting from scratch can be daunting, so I put together a list of things that educators could start with:
1 Every classroom that has a map of Australia should havethis map beside it.
This map of different countries is not a definitive map but it is a wonderful visual reminder that Indigenous cultures are diverse, have their own names and languages and boundaries. We are not a monoculture.
2 RingNSW AECGas they have teachers that you can hire to teach the correct pronunciations of these words and proper interpretations.
In Wiradjuri for example some language teachers have translated “Baby Shark Doo doo doo doo”.
3Yulunga(which means “playing” in Gamilaraay) is a brilliant resource for anyone to have. This is a list of different traditional Indigenous games and sports readily available comprised for people of all ages and abilities.
A wrestling game of the Noongar people of the south-west of Western Australia was called meetcha kambong (‘nut game’) or boojur kombang (‘ground game’).
4 If you’re from NSW then go to theNSWALC websiteto find your local lands council and ask for contacts for people in your area to help place a bush tucker garden, teach weaving to girls or making clap sticks. I’ve seen in most schools teachers putting together programs for boys to learn how to make and play the Yidaki while leaving the girls behind. Of course this is not all schools but it has been my experience.
Dark Emu has educated many of us on Aboriginal agriculture and land management. It thankfully has now been rewritten with young readers in mind, with the hope that the next generation will have a deeper understanding of Indigenous history and culture and the amazing practices and techniques that were developed and sustained over thousands of years across Australia.
This book covers prehistory, post-colonial history, language, kinship, knowledge, art, performance, storytelling, native title, the stolen generations, making a rightful place for first Australians and looking to the future for Indigenous Australia. It also has a handy teacher’s guide for how to use it for years 7-10.
7IndigenousXhas a wide range of articles on any number of topics, all written by Indigenous people. Some are more kid friendly than others but definitely worth searching for relevant articles to use with students.
8 This link provides notes for teachers providing support on how to appropriately imbed Indigenous science in the curriculum from K-10.
And remember, Google is your friend! Do as much research as you can before you start asking Aboriginal parents for ideas. Some of us will have answers for you and be happy to help but there’s lots of us who aren’t teachers, don’t have a lot of classroom appropriate resources and don’t have time to do your job for you. When you come to us with no knowledge, no ideas and clearly having done no research it doesn’t fill us with confidence that you’re able to effectively and appropriately discuss topics of culture, history or contemporary issues.
Indigenous students should have access to accurate and appropriate information about their own cultures in schools and parents should have confidence that schools are equipped in doing so. I have found myself wishing that schools would just stop teaching anything about culture because when they stuff it up it makes it harder for us to teach our kids that schools are good places that welcome and respect them, and that they should have a basic level of trust that what teachers teach them is true.
Schools have made a commitment to Indigenous education through policies and within the curriculum but all too often have not put in the effort to challenge misconceptions, re-educate teachers, discuss issues of racism, or any of the things that are essential to ensure teachers are capable of teaching students about Indigenous peoples and cultures.
Jade Pearson is from Gumbaynggirr country in Gumma and Scotts Head on her mother’s side, and Peak Hill in Wiradjuri on her dad’s side. She is a mother of three and recently married.
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