A more accurate record of First Nations peoples’ experience of colonial invasion in the curriculum is a chance to move on from the culture wars and give all students an opportunity to learn about the unique diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait cultures.
Proposed changes to the national curriculum reflect a vital shift in the public conversation, leaving behind the tired, obsolete and self-serving ‘culture wars’ perpetuated by (mostly white, male) commentators, and instead embracing the need to address the impact of European invasion, and put the experiences and perspectives of our First Nations people at the centre of school education.
A recent review by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority’s Indigenous advisory group has questioned the “accuracy and adequacy” of the current cross-curriculum priorities, arguing that the curriculum needs to become more culturally responsive, and to address the impact of colonisation and invasion on our First Nations people.
The group found the current school curriculum contains “outdated” ideas; fails to respond to calls for truth-telling about the “invasion and dispossession of land, sea and sky”; and neglects to showcase the “sophisticated political, economic and social organisations systems” of the world’s oldest continuing culture. It also recommended more inclusive language, including broadening terminology to include ‘First Nations Australians’ as well as ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders’.
AEU Federal Aboriginal education officer Darcel Russell has worked with First Nations educators to draft a public statement urging Australians to support the proposed changes in response to those who are opposed to the changes and seek to marginalise the teaching of Indigenous histories and perspectives.
“Telling the truth about history and really grounding young people in the foundations of this country is essential to our future.”
National Indigenous Youth Education Coalition coordinator Hayley McQuire
“The changes proposed in the review will contribute to both ‘closing the gap’ in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educational attainment and closing the ‘why weren’t we told?’ gap in knowledge and understanding of the richness and diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and in the teaching and learning of the shared history of our country,” the statement says.
National Indigenous Youth Education Coalition coordinator Hayley McQuire says the draft changes should lead to a deeper understanding of the nation’s shared history, helping the country move beyond reconciliation and towards justice.
“Telling the truth about history and really grounding young people in the foundations of this country is essential to our future,” she told SBS.
According to lawyer and Wiradjuri/Wailwan woman Teela Reid, this is the reckoning that Australia’s First Nations people have been waiting for. “Unlike the leafy street of Canberra where big decisions are made, the nation’s school students do not live in a bubble,” she wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald. “It is a positive sign that our society is maturing into a nation ready to embrace a more honest narrative about our entire story.”
As Reid suggests, schools have long been dealing with the reality of dispossession and its profound and enduring consequences for our First Nations people. Many public schools have a long history of engaging with Indigenous perspectives; celebrating the culture, knowledge and resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; and looking at the ongoing need for justice and reconciliation.
Parkdale Secondary College is just one school that has worked hard to implement an Indigenous program in the curriculum and foster pride among local Indigenous students.
“We cannot understand who we are as a nation, our national identity, our place, our future, without understanding our past.”
First Nations writer Anita Heiss
“We believe education is the key and we work hard to provide forums and workshops for those who want to participate,” says teacher and Koorie leader Katrina Amon.
“We try to provide all students with the tools to confront these issues safely and to encourage allied thinking about issues concerning Aboriginal Australians.”
At this year’s Sydney Writers Festival, First Nations writer Anita Heiss expressed support for ACARA’s draft curriculum changes, asserting that “everything post-1788” is not just an Aboriginal story, “it’s Australian history”.
“We cannot understand who we are as a nation, our national identity, our place, our future, without understanding our past,” Heiss said.
In response to the proposed changes to the national curriculum, federal Indigenous Affairs minister Ken Wyatt said: “It is important that all Australian students are provided the opportunity to learn about the depth, wealth and diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander 65,000-year-old history and cultures, and we want to ensure teachers are appropriately supported to embed Indigenous Australian perspectives in their classroom practice.”
The proposed changes are open for public consultation and expected to be finalised by next year. The AEU is urging all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander members to make a submission to the ACARA review at australiancurriculum.edu.au/consultation