This year’s World Indigenous Peoples’ Conference on Education brought together thousands of educators to share inspiration and ideas. AEU First Nations project officers Alinta Williams and Shannon Bourke run through the highlights with LOUISE SWINN.
The World Indigenous Peoples’ Conference on Education (WIPCE) has grown dramatically in its 30 years. Held at the Adelaide Convention Centre on the lands of the Kaurna Nation from 26 to 30 September, this year’s convention drew more than 2,500 delegates, 900 of whom were international guests.
The theme was ‘Indigenous Education Sovereignty – Our Voices… Our Futures’. Attendees were spoilt for choice, with 16 concurrent workshops to choose from at any given time, as well as a couple of keynote speeches each day, gala dinners, lunches, singing, and plenty of opportunities for dancing.
For AEU delegates and First Nations project officers Shannon Bourke and Alinta Williams there were many highlights, including Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor Marcia Langton’s keynote, ‘Sovereignty – Political bodies and the body politic’ and Flinders University Pro Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous) Simone Tur on ‘Voice’.
“It was just so good to hear these powerful women with powerful voices. It’s so meaningful to hear from them as women doing change-making work for so long. They are experts in their field of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives in education, and working against the colonial project to ensure that our voices are heard,” Alinta says.
For Shannon, another highlight was the keynote address from Hayley McQuire, CEO of the National Indigenous Youth Education Coalition (NIYEC), who spoke on ‘Voices / Youth’.
“That was inspiring because it’s young Aboriginal people reimagining education, ensuring that when children need to go off and do cultural business, it’s recognised as learning, it’s part of their schooling – they’re not absent from school that day,” Shannon says. “The main message coming out was about language and the power of language in enacting change, in taking back space and having self-determination.”
“It was just beautiful being in a space where we were the majority.”
Shannon and Alinta heard many similar stories at the event about the work being done towards positive change. “Every person who got up to speak did a cultural practice connected to their people or land before they spoke, and the power of that was so beautiful,” says Alinta. “It makes you reflect very much on how some language was stolen – and how do we reclaim that as Aboriginal people and Aboriginal educators, for our children? It was just beautiful being in a space where we were the majority.”
Shannon took part in University of Alberta’s Laurie-Ann Lines’ workshop, which involved ‘adopting forum theatre as a tool for language development and intergenerational connection’. She then practiced what she learnt at the recent AEU Federal Women’s Conference, using laughter to build bonds and break down people’s walls.
The conference was an opportunity to showcase Australia, which won the bid to host. Indigenous foods featured heavily, from wild boar, buffalo and crocodile, to desserts featuring wattleseed and lemon myrtle.
“Personally, it was really cup-filling,” Alinta says. “Professionally, with my teacher’s hat on, there were things there you could implement, like curriculum, forum theatre tools, art-making practices, ways to engage your students. And with our current positions at the AEU, ways to build capacity and support our teachers in their role as educators and to make culturally responsible workplaces.”
Shannon found out about a Minnesota community college program where they target senior secondary students to join the teaching profession by beginning their degree in the last six months of high school. For both Shannon and Alinta, their minds are now full of ideas on ways to work with the Department of Education to facilitate the inclusion of similar programs here.
The ‘cultural load’ is a common theme. “We can’t have another generation of people who say, ‘I didn’t learn that at school’. We’ve seen the consequences of that,” Alinta says. “The truth telling doesn’t always have to come from us. This is the history that we know to be true. Massacres and the Stolen Generation – this can be told by our educator workforce in schools. It’s better to make a mistake than to have silence. Silence is violence, after all.”