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Daniel Lang 100098632 Christine Jacques

This essay will discuss ways of incorporating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander studies
into classroom curriculum. It will refer to the Australian Curriculum conceptual framework
for embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander studies and will explain activities that
could be used within the classroom to achieve this framework. This essay will also discuss
historical and contemporary issues including self-determination and community
engagement, and there will be a main focus on racism and the impact it has as well as
strategies that could be used to help overcome this issue. This essay will also discuss the
importance of critical thinking, and will mention skills that are important for teachers to
have. Throughout the use of examples, there will be a constant reminder of the significant
responsibility the educator has in developing a culturally inclusive classroom.

Craven (2011, p. 2) explains that despite Australia priding itself on its fair go principles, this
has not extended to Aboriginal Australians. Craven (2011, p.2) explains that achieving social
justice in regards to Aboriginal equality does not simply involve spending money, rather
changing systems and mindsets to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures as
being of equal importance as non-Indigenous cultures. Achieving this recognition is a role all
schools have to play, which is why incorporating Indigenous studies into the curriculum is
critical (Craven, 2011 p. 2). Harrison (2011, p. 20) explains that Captain Cook did not
discover Australia because Aboriginal people were here long before he arrived, and it is
crucial educate children that the timeline of this country does not begin in 1788. Therefore
teachers must first help students become aware of the true history of this country, which
will help embed cultural knowledge across the curriculum, which ensures Indigenous
perspectives are taken. In raising an understanding of Indigenous history and perspectives,
students will develop an appreciation of the Indigenous culture and realise struggles they
have been forced to endure. It is vital to bring the Indigenous culture into the classroom and
educators place children at a disadvantage by not explaining the vast history of this culture.
Price (2012, p. 152) argues that there are numerous reasons why classrooms should study
and teach Indigenous histories and cultures, the main being that living in Australia should
require knowledge of the country’s history. Behrendt (cited in Price, 2012, p. 152) argued
that Australia will never matter as a country unless it is aware of its roots, and that its roots
lie firmly in Aboriginal culture. Price (2012, p. 152) states that Indigenous studies is about

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educating all Australians in relation to the histories, societies and cultures of Indigenous
people. Teaching Indigenous studies is a positive step towards reconciliation, hence the
importance it has in the curriculum (Price 2012, p. 153).

Throughout the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), there
are references to what students should be learning in regards to Indigenous people. In
student’s initial year of schooling, in the Humanities and Social Sciences curriculum there is
a focus on personal and family histories which involves finding more about who their
families are and where they were born and raised. During these initial stages, stories about
the different cultures that exist within the classroom will be explored. A specific example of
embedding Indigenous studies into the classroom curriculum is examining the symbolism of
flags and recognising special occasions when they are flown. One such occasion may be
National Sorry Day which remembers and acknowledges the mistreatment of the Indigenous
population. Using this example, students complete research on what is behind the flag
which represents their cultural background, for example the colours, stars or whatever may
be displayed on their flag. Students then draw the flag of the culture they associate with and
during this lesson it may emerge there are students with different cultural backgrounds,
whether this includes themselves or their parents. There may even be students who
unknowing to some recognise as being Aboriginal or a Torres Strait Islander, and they would
reveal this when drawing their flag. Upon researching the meaning behind their flag, and by
visually recreating it, they will share with the class a background into this culture which may
have been one students knew little about.

Craven (2011, p. 5) explains that Australia was colonised on the basis of terra nullius, as the
European settlers acted as though they were settling on empty land, and that Australian
education has been European based. Carter (2006, p.85) explains that the idea of the land
being settled has been replaced by the knowledge of invasion, even using terms such as
massacre and genocide to describe what occurred. This is the true history of this country,
and failure to explain this to students will ensure they remain ignorant about what really
occurred. Gollan (2012, p. 152) explains that Aboriginal children develop their

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understanding of the world through their links to country and values and beliefs of the
country they were born into. It is through these values and beliefs that Indigenous people
develop a sense of community engagement, the strong and lasting connections Indigenous
people have, their ability to work together to ensure everyone’s well being. Aboriginal
families connected to these values and beliefs will pass on their Aboriginality and through
this, children discover their identity (Gollan 2012, p. 152). However, their sense of self can
be interrupted during schooling when they learn a different set of values and beliefs, and
that is why incorporating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander studies into classroom
curriculum is so important.

Gollan (2011, p. 158) explains that a stressful aspect of life for Aboriginal people is the high
occurrence of racism. In an investigation completed by Gallagher et al. (cited in Gollan 2011,
p. 158) into the health and everyday life of Indigenous people who live in urban areas, it was
found 93% of people interviewed had experienced racism, with two thirds experiencing it
often. As Gollan (2011, p. 158) explains, racism is an ongoing experience for Aboriginal
families and due to these experiences, young Aboriginal children may lack trust of non-
Aboriginal people and feel anxious on beginning school, where studies have found racism is
a common occurrence. As Walker (cited in Gollan 2011, p. 158) explains, Aboriginal children
face racial problems as soon as they begin school which is particularly difficult because of
their strong cultural values during their upbringing. Due to these values and how proud they
are of their identity, it can be a shock that is rightfully extremely difficult to overcome.

In a study completed by Mansouri et al. (cited in Gollan 2011, p. 159) of 900 secondary
students across Australia, they found 80% of students from non-Anglo backgrounds had
experienced racism, and this abuse came from teachers, administration and students. Ways
teachers displayed racism were through exclusion, unfair treatment or failing to respond to
students racism, whereas students used verbal insults, exclusion and even physical attacks
(Mansouri et al., cited in Gollan 2011, p. 159). As Gollan explains (2011, p. 160),
unfortunately there are many families that have been unable to manage the continuous
experiences of racism as they become weary from the many issues that arise from managing
racism and subsequent grief. Some departments of education have developed policies in
regards to school based racism and the success of this approach is reliant upon an

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understanding of staff about the nature of racism and development of strategies to address
the issue (Gollen 2011, p. 169). Incorporating Indigenous studies into the classroom will
show clear support and rightful acknowledgment of this culture, and when combined with a
culturally inclusive team, will begin to address the issue of racism in schools.

For the Arts cross curriculum, ACARA states (n.d.) that it enables the exploration of art
produced by Indigenous people. Furthermore, the Arts explores how the relationships
between people and culture for Indigenous people can be explained through a combination
of art forms and how this art builds identity (ACARA, n.d). The visual arts component
through years 5 and 6 will involve exploring ideas and practices by Indigenous artists and
how their art represents views and beliefs (ACARA, n.d.). Therefore, students could explore
different pieces of Aboriginal art as a greater understanding of their culture will be achieved
through this exploration. It is important for students to realise that Aboriginal art likely has
spiritual means behind their creations. Students will develop a sense of the connection
artists have with their communities through analysing different pieces and forms of art. An
example of an art lesson that could arise from this component is in groups, students are
given an A4 piece of Aboriginal artwork with just the outlines of the artwork. Students will
colour in the artwork with accurate reflections on Aboriginal culture, for example using
colours that may frequently be used. Students are to research the artwork they were given,
and present their artwork to the class along with their research findings. This activity allows
students to organise and process their researched information, as well as enabling students
to present their artwork by describing how they used visual aids to represent their ideas and
understanding, all ACARA principles.

An aspect of high importance is involving Aboriginal parents in their children’s schooling


journey. Harrison (2011, p. 167) explains that dealing with preconceptions and being careful
about your judgements is crucial in order to build successful relationships with parents of
your students. Furthermore, building these relationships is just as much about working with
your own thoughts and assumptions as it is working with the parents (Harrison 2011, p.
167). An issue affecting many Aboriginal people is the unjust treatment they have been

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forced to endure, such as children being removed from families, being unable to own
property and being disallowed to speak their own language (Harrison 2011, p. 167). As a
result of this appalling treatment, some parents observe teachers in order to see the way in
which they speak and behave around their children (Harrison 2011, p. 168). Harrison (2011,
p. 168) explains that due to the fact many Aboriginal people were branded as failures by an
inflexible and narrow minded education system, many Aboriginal parents feel
uncomfortable about returning to school and being involved in their child’s school life.

Teachers should have the skill of being able to incorporate parents into their children’s
schooling activities. An example of this being setting up a day where family members are
invited into the classroom to share about themselves and their history and this will have
many advantages. Firstly, from a parent/caregiver perspective, it will allow them to observe
the way the teacher interacts with students which should settle the fears Harrison (2011)
mentioned, and it will allow family members to feel accepted and valued at the school.
From a student perspective, they will take pride in their adult’s presence and contributions
and will allow students to get an understanding of the background of their classmates. From
a family day like this, it will become evident the importance community engagement has
within the Indigenous community.

Critical thinking and deconstructing stereotypes is a crucial role educators have when it
comes to embracing Indigenous cultures. As Price (2012, p. 4) explains, early myths
developed that Indigenous people were uneducable and that for a long time their children
were seen as being only fit to cook, build and complete more tedious tasks. While this
stereotype may be outdated, it is an example of the hurtful misconceptions that have
existed and why critical thinking is essential. Harrison (2011, p. 13) explains that many
Aboriginal students are not convinced that school is worthwhile because they fail to see
themselves in the pictures of the future that teachers generally portray for them. The
stereotypes that Indigenous students do not have the same capacity to learn and be
successful is damaging and must stop. Martin (2008, p. 138) explains that teachers have a
reliance on Western frameworks for teaching however there is room for teachers to make
choices within their classrooms, to negotiate in order to achieve desired outcomes.
Furthermore, Martin (2008, p. 138) explains that these choices will be based on their values,

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beliefs and views, so having an understanding of Indigenous cultures will allow these
perspectives to be integrated into the classroom. Martin (2008, p. 138) explains that
Aboriginal people don’t want schools to teach children to be Aboriginal but want schools to
support their cultural heritage and to respect Aboriginal ancestry. Also, there needs to be an
acceptance that their ancestry can never be replaced by non-Aboriginal heritage despite this
being taught in schools (Martin 2008, p. 138). Therefore in schools it is important to discuss
this heritage, and the issue of self-determination. In 1972, the Whitlam government
removed the White Australia Policy and introduced a policy of self-determination (Sanders
2002, p. 1). The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC, n.d.), in regards to Indigenous
people, explain that self determination is the continual process of entitlement to have
control over their destiny and to be treated respectfully, and furthermore, to peruse
economic, social and cultural development. Furthermore, the right of self-determination for
Indigenous people includes freedom from discrimination and being involved in the
development and implementation of policies and that impact them (AHRC, n.d.).

Ultimately, in order to incorporate Indigenous studies into the classroom, it rests upon the
teacher, because as Buckskin (2012, p. 168) explains, a culturally competent teacher will
build positive learning relationships with Indigenous children. As students will discover,
teachers will be unable to effectively teach Indigenous studies unless there is a real
understanding of the culture. Providing Indigenous children with the same opportunities as
their peers will largely depend on the relationships formed in the classroom. Buckskin (2012,
p. 168) explains that each individual’s identity has been formed by the culture and social
setting it has been raised, and this refers to both educator and student. From an educators
standpoint it is essential to incorporate Indigenous studies into the classroom curriculum as
it will provide the opportunity for students to become culturally competent. Teachers have
a significant responsibility to ensure this occurs as they will be educating and guiding the
next generation. It is critical that teachers ensure awareness and understanding of
Indigenous history and their culture is obtained, and having a no tolerance policy for racism.

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Behrendt (1995, p. 12) explains the significance of the land to Aboriginal people, and states
that their connection with the land is like the bonding between a parent and a child. This
brief statement explains the strong connection the Aboriginal people have to their country,
perhaps one that non-Indigenous people fail to recognise. According to Broome (cited in
Behrendt 1995, p. 13), prior to invasion there were over 500 different tribal groups of
several different families, and they would meet for ceremonies or trade. Furthermore,
people had affiliations with different areas of country and had the right to hunt and feed in
certain areas, as well perform religious ceremonies (Behrendt 1995, p. 15). This
demonstrates the diversity even within the Aboriginal community, and students will need to
develop and understanding of this to gain a broader perspective. According to ACARA (n.d.),
the history curriculum explains that children are to develop an awareness of the significant
roles of Indigenous people in Australian society, and developing an understanding of the
diversity of their people and origins will help them achieve this. An activity students could
complete to help achieve this curriculum goal is for groups to each study an Aboriginal tribal
group, perhaps researching the different languages spoken, customs and beliefs. This
activity focuses on the ACARA (n.d.) Indigenous cross-curriculum areas O1.7 and O1.8 which
explore the diverse societies of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, as well as
understanding the sophisticated family structures.

This essay discussed ways of incorporating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander studies into
classroom curriculum and provided examples of particular activities that could be used in a
classroom setting. It referred to the Australian Curriculum conceptual framework for
embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander studies. This essay also discussed historical
and contemporary issues including self-determination and community engagement, with a
particular focus on racism and the impact it has. This essay also discussed the importance of
critical thinking, and mentioned skills that are important for teachers to have. This essay
explained that for students to develop an understanding of Indigenous history and
embracing Indigenous studies, it begins with the teacher. It explained how being a critical
thinker, one that is culturally competent and able to deconstruct misconceptions, will allow
this to occur in the classroom.

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References:

Attorney General’s Department, n.d., Right to self-determination, Australian Government,


viewed 17 September 2015,
<https://www.ag.gov.au/RightsAndProtections/HumanRights/PublicSectorGuidanceSheets/
Pages/Righttoselfdetermination.aspx>

Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority, (ACARA), n.d., viewed 15


September 2015, < http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/humanities-and-social-
sciences/history/curriculum/f-10?layout=1>

Behrendt, L 1995, Aboriginal dispute resolution : a step towards self-determination and


community autonomy, Federation Press, Leichhardt NSW, pp. 12-30.

Buckskin, P 2012, ‘Engaging Indigenous students’, in K Price (ed.), Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander Education: An introduction for the teaching profession, 1st edn, Cambridge
University Press, Melbourne, Victoria, pp. 164-180.

Carter, D 2006, Dispossession, dreams and diversity: Issues in Australian studies, Frenchs
Forest, NSW: Pearson Education, pp. 64-85.

Craven, R 2011, Teaching Aboriginal studies, 2nd edn, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, NSW, pp.
1-21.

Gollan, S 2012, Reform and resistance in Aboriginal education, UWA Publishing, Crawey WA,
pp. 149-173.

Harrison, N 2011, Teaching and Learning in Aboriginal Education, 2nd edn, Sydney: Oxford
University Press, pp. 1-15.

Martin, K 2008, Education and diversity in Australia, Pearson Education, Frenchs Forest,
NSW, pp. 27-40.

Price, K 2012, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education: An introduction for the
teaching profession , 1st edn, Cambridge University Press, Melbourne, Victoria.

Sanders, W 2002, Towards an Indigenous order of Australian government: rethinking self-


determination as Indigenous affairs policy, pp. 1-20.