Director Maya Newell’s new film In My Blood It Runs is a clarion call to change the way Australian schools teach our nation’s history.
When Hayley McQuire watched Maya Newell’s powerful documentary, In My Blood It Runs, about 10-year-old Arrernte boy Dujuan’s spirited resistance to the erasure of his history and culture at school in Alice Springs, she recognised herself. Growing up in Rockhampton, Central Queensland, she was, like Dujuan, taught that Captain Cook discovered Australia.
“When you’re a young Aboriginal kid and, outside of school, you’re with your family and your dad’s telling you about your Darumbal history and that we’ve been here for forever, those two things don’t really chalk up,” says Hayley.
As the co-founder and national coordinator of the National Indigenous Youth Education Coalition (NIYEC), a group focused on the right of Indigenous children to access a more culturally appropriate education, Hayley leapt at the chance to work with Maya and the In My Blood It Runs team.
“We shouldn’t have to feel like we go to school and leave most of who we are at the door,” Hayley says. “This isn’t about criticising teachers, because we recognise that the whole school system, and all our systems, have been built on this colonial legacy where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were assimilated. And education was a part of that assimilation project. It was deliberate in taking away Indigenous knowledge and languages.”
The need for educational reform is what drove director Maya Newell to make In My Blood it Runs. Pointing to immersion schools in New Zealand, Hawaii, Canada and some parts of the US, she says kids’ right to education in their own language and culture involves completely reassessing what education looks like, and encouraging curriculums written by First Nations people. “The film campaign backed the work of a new coalition of First Nations educators – Utyerre Apanpe – representing over 15 nations, by screening the film in Federal Parliament House and simultaneously presenting their wishes to formalise and recognise the First Nations education systems that exist currently. This work is being supported by our First Nations partners at Children’s Ground,” says Maya.
“Once we do know our full history, then I see it as a way of creating a fairer and just society.”
In My Blood It Runs was made freely available to educators and students at the onset of the COVID crisis, alongside educational resources from partners, including Reconciliation Australia’s Narragunnawali team and an Australian Teachers of Media teaching guide made in collaboration with a First Nations advisory board: inmyblooditruns.com/education/
More than 3000 schools have now screened the film. “There’s not one teacher that doesn’t want the best for the children in their classes. They are absolutely hungry for this support. They just need that system change that will allow them to access the training they need.”
Hayley agrees there’s a growing desire for embracing First Nations knowledge, not just within the education system but in every aspect of society. “Once we do know our full history, then I see it as a way of creating a fairer and just society. With lots of my non-Indigenous mates, when I tell them about what we experienced and what we know, they feel equally as angry that they miss out on this history. Imagine how much could change if people deeply understood what really happened?”
She says she’s inspired by the way the next generation is coming to grips with its challenges. “So many of our kids are so amazing, cheeky and charismatic. Dujuan, he picks up on it. He draws those parallels really clearly through the voice of a 10-year-old. But on the reverse side, how much lost potential is out there through a system that doesn’t recognise them?”
Education reform begins with listening to those who will most benefit from it, Hayley says. “We’re still in that initial phase of listening to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people around how they learned history in school, what they would like improved and how.
“Digging deeper, are there more Dujuan’s out there? What we are finding is there are plenty.”