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Are We Being Taught Enough About Indigenous Culture And History In School?

*WARNING* Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that the following article contains the name of a deceased person.


When I was in high school I remember being taught very little about Aboriginals.

I learnt about British settlement (the "invasion" was never used in the teachings), the Stolen Generation and watched 'Rabbit Proof Fence;' but that was pretty much it.

I wasn't taught about any iconic Indigenous people in Australia's history.

In fact the only Indigenous person I could name as a kid and even a teenager was Cathy Freeman.

It wasn't until I went to an Invasion Day protest earlier this year that I learnt more about Indigenous history, Indigenous role models and Indigenous culture.

At the protest I learnt about Indigenous activist and Indigenous leader Sam Watson that sadly passed away in 2019.

Thousands of people attended his funeral in Brisbane last year yet I wasn't taught about this man's monumental achievements and legacy while I was in school.

I learnt more about Indigenous people at a three hour protest than I did throughout my entire 12 years of schooling.

2020 Brisbane Invasion Day Protest. Source: Cathy Ross

So why wasn't I taught more about the Indigenous community?

Has Indigenous education in schools gotten better since I graduated?

Or are we still referring to the invasion of this land as simply a "settlement?"

To kick off this exploration I conducted a small survey of 205 participants to get a better understanding on whether I was the only one frustrated that I learnt so little about Aboriginals in school.

Turns out I'm not the only one that feels like school isn't teaching us enough about Indigenous culture, icons, issues and history.

Over 80% of the respondents said they were not taught about Indigenous icons or role models in school.

And although 60% of respondents said they learnt about the Stolen Generation in school, many said it was very "minimal" and that they were taught the "white washed version."

Alana says although the school occasionally had dancers and didgeridoo players come in to perform to students, when it came to lessons on the Stolen Generation things were very problematic.

"The Stolen Generation was taught as if the government rescued the kids from abuse and neglect," she says.

Izz remembers appropriating Indigenous art when she was in primary school but in high school she went on a school trip to an Aboriginal community in South Australia called Pipalyatjara.

"This was extremely beneficial for learning about Aboriginal culture, but it was only myself and four other students," she says, "it was great but it was always a small, exclusive group and it was quite expensive."

So how are teachers feeling about this?

Do they think enough is being taught to students?

NSW high school teacher Ruby says it is now required in the state's curriculum to include Indigenous perspectives across all subjects but she says many teachers are still hesitant to do so.

"I think a lot of teachers are hesitant to get things wrong and generally skim over it," she says.

Hannah and Laura are also teachers and both believe students need to be taught more about Indigenous culture and history.

"It would be fantastic to learn more about the icons of today and also the importance of connection to country," Laura says.

Hannah says teachers are encouraged to have members of the Indigenous community come in to the school and speak to students about Indigenous culture.

"It's great because it gives students a first hand understanding of Indigenous culture, she says, "unfortunately teachers are busy and this obviously is a lot of effort so it doesn't always get done.

Several schools across the country have started following efficient educational programs to help students learn about Indigenous history and culture.

Grace recently followed the program 'From Gumnuts to Buttons' during her tertiary studies and highly recommends more teachers use this program.

'From Gumnets to Buttons' teaches students about the colonisation of Australia. Source: ABC

'From Gumnuts to Buttons' looks at the invasion of the land through the eyes of Tasmanian Aboriginal people.

"The program brought so much insight into what the community has gone through," Grace says.

This small exploration just uncovers the surface of what is a big problem in Australia - why aren't we learning enough about Indigenous culture and history?

Is it up to our teachers and schools to educate the children or is it up to parents to educate themselves so they can teach their children about Aboriginals?

Do Indigenous kids and parents feel school is doing enough?

How do they think schools can do better?

These are the questions I plan to look into in the decent future.

So in mean time how do we further educate ourselves on Indigenous culture and history?

Here are just a few ways we make ourselves better educated.

  • READ books, articles, poems, social media content created by Indigenous people.

  • WATCH movies and documentaries about Indigenous history and issues. Even if you watched Rabbit Proof Fence in school WATCH IT AGAIN.

  • LISTEN to podcasts run by Aboriginals so you can hear their experiences first hand. For example Tiddas 4 Tiddas; and Always Was, Always Will Be Our Stories

  • ATTEND workshops and events dedicated to discussing Indigenous issues. For example Australian Earth Laws Alliance are holding online conferences to discuss how we can learn from Indigenous communities in how they cared for the land.

  • PROTEST at the Invasion Day protest - quit calling the day 'Australia Day' while you're at it.

  • DONATE to charities and organisations helping disadvantaged Indigenous communities.

  • SUPPORT petitions. For example there is a petition calling for the inclusion of Aboriginal culture as a subject in schools. And there is a petition run by Clothing The Gap calling for the Aboriginal flag to no longer be controlled by a non-Indigenous business.

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