• working/reading

    I am reading through 'both ways' literature of Yolngu and non-Yolngu working their knowledge systems together. Alongside I am reading Lorraine Code's 2006 book Ecological Thinking. I am also browsing through blogs and discussions on knowledge work and community development.
  • About this Blog

    Here I post some of my work and thinking. It is a much harder task than I thought! It is an extension of my research on knowledge and difference connecting my experiences, reflections, formal written pieces, and hopefully friends and colleagues. As work and self cannot be separate this blog is both personal and intellectual. Comments are moderated because, while it is a site for collective work, it is not anonymous.
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Nothing there? Think Again. Yolngu Homelands in Arnhem Land

Last Friday I went to hear Banduk Marika speak with John von Sturmer at the Institute for Postcolonial Studies (IPCS). Amongst many other things talked about was the question of Australia’s endless forgetting about Indigenous Australians, their presence and achievements. As Banduk said, ‘we are always asked and required to prove who we are, over and over again.’ She told a story about her efforts to care for her own country and environment over the past 20 years. Banduk and her family started a Landcare program near Yirrkala. It grew as family business and ran on family money. In early 2007, there were 36 people working in the program, only 5 of whom were non-Indigenous. When the Northern Territory created mega-Shires for local governance the legislation enabled the new Shires to acquire all public and community used assets )the Intervention had the same powers). The North East Arnhem Shire took all the resources form the local Landcare group and shut it down. In the last three months Banduk and her family have begun again. A family run, family funded nursery.

Hearing this reminded of a recent story that came out around the recent, but not new, threat to Homelands. The 1967 referendum, at which 90% of then eligible Australians voted to include Indigenous Australians in the census and make the Commonwealth government responsible for their welfare. This included the beginning of social security payments, at first to elderly pensioners. Much of this money, as John explained in the IPCS event above, went towards paying wages for people to begin their own Homelands in clearing airstrips, making buildings and other infrastructure. In 1982, the Homeland of Mirrngatja in Arnhem Land paid for its own school building. I am not sure if the money came from 1967-born pension payments, but knowing some of the elders there, they certainly would have given money if it was there. In any case, that it was paid for is testament to the willingness and resourceful of Yolngu in maintaining living on their country while engaging with mainstream institutions in paying wages and providing schooling. The school at Mirrngatja has been given a measly $200 in maintenance funding in its 27 years of operation by the Department of Education who runs it and provides a teaching one day a week – the full case study and shocking comparison to a non-Indigenous school of similar size is to be found here (from the Institute of Cultural Survival).

Two researchers at ANU have recently written a great post in what they call ‘cultura nullius’ – this inability to see anything in Homelands (social networks, environmental care, social economies, willingness to work with outside groups and ways of living) and its related quite astounding ability to keep forgetting this history. They also point out, and I should too, that we are both writing about our experiences in Yolngu Homelands in North East Arnhem Land – and here are two good videos from this area, one from Mata Mata and one from more recent GetUp campaign.

A closing statement at the IPCS event went something like this: ‘Indigenous movements are good in their own right, but also are valuable in that they reveal things about the state of society. In the academy we need to get outside the box which it has inherited from Government departments and their compartmentalisation of knowledge.’ Even when Indigenous people are listened to, they are still only allowed to talk about themselves and their ‘issues’. Thinking that Indigenous Australians have nothing valuable to contribute to debates on the environment, immigration, social policy, philosophy and much more is an even more insidious part of cultural nullius.

[From Nothing there? Think Again. Yolngu Homelands in Arnhem Land]

Remote Schooling and Situated Education

Recently I was at an development studies seminar and there one presenter talked about her time in Namibia and her research on the provision of education to the predominantly nomadic Indigenous people in the North of the country. What was said reminded me much of education in remote Northern Territory and the possible consequences of not recognizing multiple knowledges nor that knowledge is contextual or situated.

A truncated version of the story given goes like this. ‘Modern education’ [mass standardized and institutional] has been attempted in Namibia since independence in 1990 (Namibia was a German colony then governed by South Africa). Education is provided as institutionalized schooling in rural centers and is delivered in English and to a much smaller extent mobile schools service traveling families, delivering education in local languages. For a modern State, education is seen as improving the economy, social mobility, and political consciousness. The parents and the communities of remote parts of North Namibia value this education, but also want to continue their traditions. However, as the schools are only in centers or towns, this geographical separation of school and home means that having both schooling and tradition has meant that families have half their children attend school and live in town and half their children stay home and carry on tradition.

Also, when talking to the schooled children in town they commented that when they went home they used their traditional knowledge and ways of life and only used their ‘modern’ knowledge when they were at school or in town amongst their schooled peers. So, not only was modern school knowledge and traditional knowledge separated out in literally separating out children to go school or to stay at home, but even the children who did go to school recognized different knowledge is appropriate in different times and places, and separated school knowledge and traditional knowledge. For the State these separations mean that not only do many children not go to school, but those who do not go onto to apply their modern schooling universally and lead a modern life in remote Namibia.

Researchers and thinkers concerned with knowledge and education are increasingly understanding all knowledge as situated, local and contingent. Much of this research emerges from interfaces between different knowledge traditions, and how to communicate and work respectfully between them. In another but related debate, Sir Ken Robinson has recently received much publicity on the continuing discussion as to whether schooling is a benefit to handling the demands of life outside.

A possible explanation for this story rests on Western understandings of knowledge. For the Wester knowledge is objective, context free and universal. With this understanding other knowledges cannot be recognised unless they translate as lesser versions of Western science. So a schooling system believing itself as providing the only version or proper knowledge will not recognize the need to situate its knowledge in terms of others ways of knowing and other ways of living. Hence, the local communities have to do the work of separating out in the interests of maintaining their tradition and knowledge. I can only wonder that is the school were also interested in maintaining local tradition and knowledge the separating out might be done better and in ways where the differences between the knowledges were made explicit worked respectfully.

The Australian Federal Government and the Northern Territory have plans to educate remote indigenous kids by building boarding schools, most likely in some of the bigger twenty regional hubs. In light of the above, I can only see a repeat of above. The Governments will remain blind to Indigenous knowledge and language or refuse to engage with them, and the indigenous communities will work novel ways to separate out the impose modern knowing and their own ways of knowing.

[From Remote Schooling and Situated Education]