12th World Indigenous Peoples Conference Education Adelaide 2022
Report of Friendly Gathering at the home of Inga and Michael Tolley, 20th November 2022.
Friends, we are very lucky today, because SANTRM provided the registration fees, which were quite considerable, for five people here for WIPCE. In case you don’t know, WIPCE stands for the World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education and we have four people who were there, who stayed, I gather, glued to their computers for a week – because it was a week long – and they have decided to report to us in their age order, starting from the youngest.
My report is not going to be a mundane fact-by-fact report. I wanted to discuss more how I felt about the experience of attending WIPCE and what I think we could do going forward. My initial feeling about WIPCE was I was very excited. I didn’t know what to expect, but when I actually ended up attending WIPCE it was really nice gaining all this knowledge. I realised that I didn’t have as much knowledge as I thought about Indigenous concerns, especially in education but just in general about how they @it into our society.
I think we have a very shallow understanding of Indigenous peoples around the world, especially in Australia, and it was really enlightening to attend a conference where all of these Indigenous people got to speak for themselves and have their own voice. It wasn’t like we hear on the news all the time in parliament, where Indigenous people are being represented by non-Indigenous people. We heard their voices and I think it’s just so much more insightful.
That being said, I think it was really sad to see how little we do know though. I have always had that understanding that we have a very poor education system in terms of Indigenous history and any kind of Indigenous culture, especially in Australia. I think that’s just because we haven’t come to terms with our history with the Indigenous people as much as we can.
We still have a very long way to go. We’re kind of stuck in our own little bubble and so it’s very surprising to see that other countries are also stuck in this bubble and cycle, rights for Indigenous people. It was also really interesting to find out about the different types of Indigenous people. We always talk about Indigenous people in the media and online and in books and everything, but we never really understand just how many different groups there are. There are so many people and there are all these concerns.
A big concern for me is the way we refuse to integrate Indigenous cultures within our country’s culture. I feel like we can’t claim to want to keep history and cultures alive unless we too also want to continue to practise these cultures and encourage these cultures. One thing I would love to learn more about and understand and practise more is this respect for the land and being able to be on Indigenous land the right way. We have a lot to learn. I think we should continue to try as much as we can to find all of this knowledge about Indigenous peoples, not just in Australia but everywhere else as well, because it is important. We don’t learn from our mistakes and history unless we actually try.
Q Would you mind telling me what other cultures were present at the conference?
I can’t tell you all of them off the top of my head, but there were a lot. The one that I distinctly remember the most was the Indigenous Norwegian people, the Sami people. That one kind of stuck in my head the most.
There was Ainu from Japan and Taiwanese Indigenous people as well, and a lot of focus on Canadian First Nations and Maori from New Zealand. I completely share all of Restina’s sentiments from the conference. Of the main lessons that I learnt from my very valuable experience attending, I will just list a few of them.
One of them is how important Indigenous input is into so-called objective research into Indigenous people, as that research often ends up being part of the master narrative for those people and then ends up representing their culture, especially for non-Indigenous people or people who aren’t as closely linked to the people being studied, and that any research needs to grapple with the differences in perspective of the researcher and the researched, and that the writer of this research mustn’t be seen to borrow the voice of Indigenous people. That was the lesson that came out of this discussion regarding the Ainu of Japan and the research that’s going on there, but of course it applies to all Indigenous people and researching there.
It was also connected to the concept of kaupapa Maori, which is research by Maori with Maori and for Maori guided by Maori principles. This woman named Linda Pura Watson spoke about the importance of sovereignty of data about Indigenous people and the permission to use that data in research. A concept that she describes that stuck with me is this Maori concept of whakawhanaungatanga, the Maori concept of describing a process of maintaining relationships even where there are difficulties and disagreements in that relationship but maintaining that relationship nonetheless as there is an understanding that that relationship will be beneficial. That was something that she used to describe the relationship between Maori people and the government bodies that might be responsible for administering funding to Maori programs and the like.
Aileen Moreton-Robinson gave a really impressive speech. She spoke about intellectual sovereignty and the development of corpus Indigenous knowledge and ensuring that Indigenous voices are at the forefront of research into Indigenous matters.
Another concept that stuck with me was the importance of not just truth telling but truth listening. That was in the context of the work of bodies called AECGs in New South Wales as consultative community bodies engaged with government and schools, ensuring that young Aboriginal people in schools are given support to eventually become elders and also incorporating local knowledge into education.
There was also a conversation about how in New South Wales at least they have these language nests, which are areas of New South Wales that are bounded by a shared language, even if there are differences in dialect. An important issue there was that whether the nest that basically administers the teaching of Indigenous languages would permit these languages to be taught to non-Aboriginal students. In the vast majority of cases they would permit teaching of non-Aboriginal students, but in some cases they wouldn’t; it would only be for Aboriginal students that could learn the language. They spoke about how now there is a development of TAFE certificates for teaching Aboriginal language, as there’s not much overlap between those qualified to teach and those who actually can speak the Aboriginal languages. So they are developing things there.
I learnt a lot about other countries. There was an example of charter schools in Hawaii and how they embraced local traditional culture and language. The people speaking about that spoke about the importance of teaching language through that local culture and traditions rather than simply translating English resources into the language, because the language is what unlocks the stories and the culture. In those schools they also served traditional foods, so it’s a real immersion in traditional culture to inspire young Indigenous people to fully embrace that and become leaders in their own culture.
I learnt that in Canada there are 634 First Nations and that the government in Canada often treats education for those First Nations as a matter of policy rather than a treaty right. It is a treaty right under the treaty in Canada. Those are the dificulties presented to First Nations people in fighting for these rights and improving outcomes in post- secondary education for First Nations people. The main focus there for advocacy is for First Nations to acquire complete control over the initiatives for post-secondary education for First Nations people, rather than that being administered by a non First Nations organisation or government body.
There are some schools in Canada, primary school aged schools, that are operated by First Nation bands and although they are underfunded they do have their own curriculum, including traditional education camps, such as hunting. The example given was a Cree operated school, where immersion into Cree culture was front and centre of their education. The school would report educational outcomes to the community and to the Cree nation first and then report to government, so it’s really becoming accountable to the Indigenous community rather than becoming accountable to government. That was most important.
Hayley McQuire gave a very inspirational keynote speech on Voice and youth. She emphasised the focus of Aboriginal history and their place in society as one of the keys to engaging young Aboriginal people in the education system. The current system, as it exists now, effectively, in her view – and she gave a very powerful argument about this – gives a licence for an Aboriginal person to operate in a white world, having that education, rather than that education providing a key to their liberation, which was a really powerful thing and it really stuck with me. She advocated for carving out space for Indigenous people to determine their own education, which was a way of recognising sovereignty over Aboriginal learning systems.
It was fascinating for me to learn about the matrilineal Indigenous societies in Taiwan. I had no idea that there was a strong Indigenous community in Taiwan of different language groups in such a relatively small island, that there was an official apology given in 2016 and that there has been more and more official recognition by the Taiwanese government. There are some experimental primary schools where a lot of the culture is – basically, a lot of young Indigenous Taiwanese people and non-Indigenous Taiwanese people are learning a lot about traditional Taiwanese culture, but obviously they have a lot of work to do as well.
The final thing that stuck with me was the example of the Gallery of New South Wales funding a living exhibition for the creation of canoes using traditional Barkindji techniques. The Barkindji area is around Menindee. The Barkindji people are funded by the Gallery of New South Wales to teach young Barkindji people about traditional canoe- making techniques, cutting the canoes out of eucalyptus red gums and developing this motivation in children to care for Country.
It really is creating a precedent for galleries like this to present and fund projects to encourage the maintenance of Indigenous culture and present these projects as part of ongoing history, which is more important than having busts in these galleries in the country. The person who started this idea is trying to have similar initiatives with the Wiradjuri people next, and we will see where it goes from there.
Those are the things I remember the most strongly about my experience. Certainly, I was really grateful for the opportunity to learn so much about the space. It’s really quite shameful that we don’t know that much about Indigenous culture, and I concur with the remarks that Restina made.
We may hear about this and this question may therefore be early. I didn’t go to the conference so there are only four of us who actually went. I was just the organiser who facilitated it, but I will mention more about that later. I am curious to know whether there were any reps from mainland China. It just needs to be a yes/no answer.
I don’t know.
What about from South America? Did we have people from Brazil, the Amazon, Peru?
I am not sure. There was a huge program and I didn’t get to read all of it, because there were about six or so concurrent sessions. There were hundreds of presentations.
I read some of those. What about Africa?
I go to school near where the conference was being held. I did see a lot of different people there, but I can’t tell you whether they were actually attending or presenting. I do think that there were some South American representatives. I am not sure, but I do think that there probably might have been.
And the other was South-East Asia. Did we see any Indigenous peoples from Asia? I know there are two or three in Vietnam. In Cambodia there are five or six, in Laos and Burma there are probably another ten or twelve different Indigenous peoples in all of those places. Were they able to be there? That’s what it comes down to.
No, I don’t remember them being. The first day was just the welcoming and acknowledgement of Country, which was a three and a half hour thing where after there was the Welcome to Country then everybody was doing acknowledgements of Country, so each of the countries were coming through and I don’t remember them coming from anywhere in South-East Asia or from South America at all.
I don’t remember the African ones. It may have been just because they weren’t actually there, but if they were there I wasn’t there at the right time, because there was such a queue up for them to just stand around for nearly three and a half hours before it was their turn to be up the front. It would have been quite a challenge, I think, for them.
I am next on the youngest list. I have here the actual program of events. The first day, as I was saying, was just a Welcome to Country. We didn’t have any time to do very much else on the Wednesday. Then on the Thursday it started in to having two keynote speakers, one in the morning and one in the afternoon and then there were concurrent sessions running for each of the groups to have a voice to speak on various things.
I have the program here. Perhaps if I just pass that around. I found the two keynote speakers that I loved best were Marcia Langton and Aileen Moreton-Robinson. They, for me, were so powerful and they are so well recognised by Indigenous people and others.
Perhaps if I start handing that around you can see the sorts of topics that people were talking about. Many participants were attending online even in Adelaide where the event was hosted, because the organisers were worried about the possibility of Covid being spread around the Indigenous people there so instead of having everybody being together it was really just the Indigenous people who were together and everybody else was available online.
We did have a bonus opportunity to listen to any of the workshops that were running, and we could participate and ask questions by typing in, so we could have our voice heard. It did give us an opportunity to listen to any of the workshops that were going on, and we could participate and ask questions by typing in, so we could have our voice heard. There was also an area where we could look at the exhibitions, so one could talk one on one to facilitators who were running the exhibitions when they were open, during the day, but those events weren’t recorded for later viewing.
The keynote speakers were recorded professionally and are now available to participants for the next three months so we can hear again the important messages that were brought out.
Q How many of those are there?
How many keynote speakers? Two a day, so Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, so that’s eight things which are available. When I logged on I could just click on the links and it put me through to the recording.
Q Anyone can do that?
No, those people who are registered can do that for the next three months. I recommend that you do that. There isn’t anything that you can download in terms of their presentations, so if you were going to do any recording, then you would have to do – I am not sure what sort of permission you would need, but that would be the way to do that to be able to listen to it for as long as you need.
In the workshops or the gallery posters section, there were institutions that were letting themselves be known about what they are doing. I was interested particularly in what Australia is doing. Reconciliation Australia made themselves known about what they are doing. There is a language conservancy. The different people are writing here and I have printed them out, so perhaps if I pass those around you can see the sorts of things that our institutions locally are doing.
The Department for Education in South Australia, as far as I can see, there are three important things that they are looking at. They are looking at educating people from as young as they can – this is forIndigenous people – into the education system, trying to get good attendance and pathways, which is to do with what happens when they move from primary to secondary or secondary to whatever happens after secondary.
In my mind, it seemed to be missing the important message that came across through other speakers, which is about the educational content. How are we delivering education to young people? Rather than decompartmentalising our subjects into various pigeonholes, a more Holistic approach to educating is obviously going to be received more warmly. We need to be addressing the way that we are providing information to our young people and how we can better do that. I am talking about people generally, not just Indigenous people. How can we use these initiatives from our Indigenous partners to both incorporate these ideas into the South Australian education system that we value so highly and thus improve it for everybody?
One of the hosts was David Rathman. I know him from my work in the suburb of Elizabeth. He was a fantastic host. He was able to just smoothly transition the next speaker or step in when the microphones weren’t working properly and he would come out with some great stories. He’s been part of the education department for donkey’s years, and could have been even better utilised than he had been more nationally.
Moogy Sumner was doing some of the Welcome to Country through the week, but Jack Buckskin and Karl Telfer did the initial one, which was fantastic and included his family as well in the Welcome to Country.
One of the things that came out of the conference for me was the important message that came from David Rathman, where he said we need to be talking about Australian Aboriginal sentiment rather than helping the Aboriginal communities, because otherwise it can backfire very easily in terms of our ‘redneck’ people in Australia same people as ‘helpless’. In order to allow Aboriginal people to be part of the conversation, we need to be talking about Aboriginal sentiment, in the same way that we do when, for example, Jewish people are talking about anti-Semitic attitudes. So we want to talk about the voice, which is so important.
Just to answer your question, I’ve just been going through some of the speeches which I didn’t get to see, and there have been speakers from South Africa, the Philippines, South America and also the Middle East.
Can I ask if there were any opinions expressed about the effectiveness or not of Reconciliation Australia?
I didn’t hear any sentiments about that.
I was surprised to hear from Oliver that – I forget which group it was – wanted to set up their own education system not including any of the non-Indigenous people in their community, whereas we tend to think it’s a good idea if we all learn at the same time. But they wanted to separate.
I think that was the Cree in Canada. I can’t remember whether they specifically excluded non-Indigenous people or whether it was just that that was tailored for Indigenous people. The school was run by the Indigenous community. Maybe there might have been one or two non-Indigenous. I don’t remember whether the presenter said that it was 100 per cent Cree, but it could have been.
Just to answer about Reconciliation and Closing the Gap quite often universities and people will get funded for showing that they are doing something in this regard, rather than the funding being focussing on, for example, assisting the ‘voice’ concept, materialising support
I wondered about that.
Geoff said to me earlier that he thought the work for us to do is to raise awareness of Indigenous issues. I went to this conference and my overall impression was this was an autonomous body and I was an outsider. They all knew what each other was talking about and they related to each other. I properly am an observer and the idea is to raise my awareness and looking for the ways that one can help, which I think is imperative for all of us.
I have some printouts here. Number one is the conference poster – Panpapapanpalya – and the theme is Indigenous education. Sovereignty is the theme of the conference – our voices, our futures – and here is a list of the previous conferences. This is the third one in Australia, but they started in Canada in 1987. There is a theme for each of the conferences. That’s what WIPCE is all about. I happened to hear about it a year ago. I was totally unaware of WIPCE even though it’s been around for so long.
Geoff referred to the brilliant parade of nations and this took, as Geoff said, hours to get through. Twenty-five nations, each presenting their own theme with a song. They all loved singing their cultural song to the audience. They may be a group as big as 20 or a group of two from each nations The parade of nations was absolutely spectacular.
Somebody mentioned who the guest speakers were. Here’s a picture of them with a list of who they are. It was opened by Linda Burnie MP. WIPCE presenters are community and political leaders and activists in Australia and internationally including the Uluru Statement from the Heart, United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and leading Indigenous and education movements across the world.
This is an academic education conference, so it’s the sort that you would present a paper at. That’s in my mind, Harald, for the next one in three years’ time. Not me, because you can’t present as a non-Indigenous person. You have to have an Indigenous leader, but Harald has the contacts with some Indigenous Quaker related people in Australia, so that’s a thing to follow up, possibly in the future.
There were something like 2,300 people attending in person, 500 Zoom people, and hundreds of presentations in multiple sessions – I think nine sessions at a time throughout the week – so it was a huge academic conference. Of the things that appealed to me, here is Australian School of the Year, Indigenous, St Andrews Catholic School. It won an Australian Education Award in 2020. This is the only 100 per cent Indigenous school in Australia that offers full tuition scholarships to local ATSI students from kindergarten to Year 12, along with exceptional cultural experiences. Gawura is pioneering a model that is actively providing opportunities restoring the dignity of local Aboriginal children.
Where is that, David?
Sydney, right in the heart of Sydney. It’s a day school, not residential. It’s at the St Andrews Cathedral School, Anglican. Just stepping up a bit, this is York University in Canada and this is tertiary level education. I think I chose this one because I think it is – if there is not there is another one like it –autonomous Indigenous. That means that all the administration is Indigenous, so they are not subject to university professors from somewhere else commenting on it. That is their goal, autonomy within their educational system.
There was a mention of Norway and one of the speakers is from Norway, a politician. Inga, I will be keen to see your nephew from Norway and ask him about what he knows about the Sami developments that are happening there, because they are on the track of having autonomous Indigenous education in Norway. That’s York University. This is a little bit more about Indigenous sovereignty in Canada. Sovereignty is a difficult concept when two people claim sovereignty, so you have to play with the ideology, make it a reality amongst your own group, the ways in which we remain sovereign, and that’s an intellectual pursuit as well as aiming for rights. What’s happened in America is that there are lands that have been allocated to Indigenous people, where they can be autonomous. The movement is towards autonomy wherever.
The last one I have here is Tauondi, our local one down in Port Adelaide. I have been there. It’s very inspirational. Jack Buckskin is one who is highly involved there. There is a tour of Tauondi College, which I didn’t go to. Tauondi is a Kaurna word meaning to penetrate or break through, a word which itself is a story. It is a beautiful place to learn, a place where many come to break through their barriers, to experience success in their studies and to learn from each other. Tauondi is a wonderful organisation in South Australia and it is going from small to bigger.
The name Buckskin always crops up. Professor Peter Buckskin was the chair of this organisation at this time and Jack Buckskin is one of the various didgeridoo players going overseas. Harald has put me in touch with other people called Buckskin. I always come to this, because the idea I referred to earlier was there might be – I know you mustn’t suggest it yourself, I know you mustn’t pass on your idea to anybody, but I see the possibility that the people who have come to this conference could be thinking of presenting something in three years’ time. I can only pass off the idea. If it’s taken up, so be it; if it’s not taken up, so be it.
Restina said to me something very exciting. She said, ‘I want to go to the next one!’ She was so enthusiastic. You can’t get more enthusiastic than that. I think where the enthusiasm is is where you might foster in whatever way you can. I would love to hear now from Harald and his contacts with the other four people who were supported by SANTRM.
I have a couple of questions, though, that I want to ask about your presentation before I go on to that. How many in person were present at the conference?
Two thousand three hundred
Two thousand three hundred in person?
Yes, mainly overseas
Hang on: there were 500 on Zoom.
And how many were there in person?
Two thousand three hundred, though they talked earlier about five thousand.
Thanks for that. I wanted to just make one other comment about something that Oliver mentioned earlier. I think it was Oliver. He mentioned that there were no permissions given for the teaching of some languages from western New South Wales. I just want to put a perspective for people on that. There is a good reason for that, and many of you may not know this, but I have experience, not with western New South Wales but with South Australian arid zone Western Desert people. A typical Western Desert Aboriginal adult will know at least three languages and typically more like five languages. They are partly the languages of their own as well as languages of adjoining peoples.
Then there are some other languages that many of them may not know about. Several languages refer to very specific traditional knowledges that are not available to everyone else and for that reason they can’t give permission to the teaching of those languages. I know one or two words in some of them and I know about them, but I am not privy to them.
You just need to be aware that culturally – and this comes to the point that Geoff was making about sentiment – it is actually more than just sentiment which comes as a feeling. It’s a whole way of being. They have a way of being. You have to remember that they are out there 24/7, 365. Seasons come and go, everything happens, good and bad, and they have a lot of time to develop intricate intimate knowledge of their existence, and it’s therefore not surprising that they have developed these other languages that we don’t even know about. It’s understandable that they’re saying, ‘No, we don’t really want non-inheriting people to know about those languages.’ It’s a perfectly understandable thing.
I wanted to make that point because it’s very easy to feel excluded when you are told, ‘No, you can’t learn this stuff,’ but if you see the context in which it occurs and exists, tens of thousands of years, you can understand.
There is one other thing that I gleaned – not that I attended – but I gleaned and I think David hinted at it. I just want to reinforce it. There is only one university in the world that is run solely, completely for and by Indigenous peoples; there is only one. We don’t have one on this country, in Australia.
Q Is that the one in Canada?
There is one in Canada, yes.
But we are working at several around the world.
Well, hopefully we can get them. There are university departments that have a strong Indigenous focus. I use the word ‘Indigenous’ when it applies worldwide, and I use the words ‘Original Australian’ when it applies on this place that we call Australia and the Torres Strait Islands. There are here in South Australia, at the University of South Australia, Peter Buckskin and his associates – and there are many of them, including Uncle Lewis O’Brien, whom I know personally and
we speak often. He and many others have a significant part in the University of South Australia, but it’s still administered by vice-chancellors and so on, most of whom are not Original Australians. We need to be aware that Indigenous representation is a work in progress.
My background to this is that I was asked to seek people to @ill the places offered by SANTRM: namely four places for original Australians and up to four places for Quakers to attend WIPCE. We haven’t heard anything at this stage from the Original Australians who were there, and I would like to acknowledge them and tell you who they are. Douglas Amarfio is an Original Australian with connections to Larrakia, which is around Darwin, and a number of other places around Australia, including Noongar, which is southwestern WA. He also acknowledges overseas Indigenous blood in his heritage. Douglas is a teacher in Canberra, and is probably about 45. He has contributed substantially to events that we have run at Silverwattle with Original Australians.
Aali-Tae Buckskin is the daughter of Debra Buckskin. Debra works with Baptist Care SA and has recently also become involved with the Quaker Shop. Aali is in her twenties and works as a Student Support Officer for Original Australians who study at the University of Adelaide.
Raymond Campbell is the son of Arrernte Elder Auntie Christine Palmer, he works in Canberra and has involvements with Canberra Friends. Raymond lives in Adelaide and is an Educator at Suicide Story, a suicide prevention program for Original Australians.
The fourth Original Australian is Shane Mortimer, a Nyamudy-Ngambri Elder from the Canberra area. Shane has been very much involved with Quakers in Canberra. Shane has brought out from the shadows a whole area of land tenure and ownership, which speaks to the question of sovereignty, called Allodial Title. You may have heard of it. Shane is probably in his 60s.
The other four you have already heard from. In the send out that I had I wasn’t quite sure of your status, David, whether you were actually part of the four that were provided for by SANTRM or not.
The Quakers who went were David, Geoff, Oliver and Restina. I have just named you in reverse age order. My role was to @ind people who could go, and I did my best to do so.
I am totally amazed how well you did that.
It probably wasn’t as representative as it could have been. It was down to the last week to organise, because it had been erroneously stated, and I had run by it, in the SANTRM minutes that it was in November and not in September, so I was caught out by two months in the schedule.
And then I didn’t see the email because it got @iltered into a promotional folder.
And you were not the only one. Aali also missed most of the emails, because the university dumped them into the spam folder. They were just two of the half a dozen issues that cropped up that I managed to negotiate through.
Do you think we would be able to get some feedback from those four?
Douglas Amarfio offered to run a Zoom session for the eight SANTRM funded attendees. He did try to set that up and had an initial meeting with Shane Mortimer. I don’t know whether any of the others were able to attend it. My hope was that he would arrange something subsequent to that. David was copied into the emails about this, because he had offered to do a report. I was hoping that that may have happened.
I never received a direct email and that’s why I missed out. I am very sad that I missed out on that Zoom meeting. I would love Douglas to arrange the Zoom meeting now between us.
What I will do is send another email to all of the eight attendees and ask Douglas to convene a Zoom meeting. I will be a supernumerary in it, so there would be nine, if I can get into it, and then maybe we take it from there.