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Australian Indigenous Studies

Research and Practice

Terry Moore, Carol Pybus, Mitchell Rolls and David Moltow

This book provides a guide to research and teaching in an Australian Indigenous Studies that is oriented toward the diverse, contemporary world. Central to this perspective is a sensibility to the intercultural complexity of that world – particularly its Indigenous component – and an awareness of the interactional capabilities that the Indigenous (and others) need to successfully negotiate it. These capabilities are important for facilitating Indigenous peoples’ goal of equality as citizens and recognition as Indigenous, a goal which this book seeks to address.

The Indigenous Studies presented in this book rejects as unproductive the orientation of orthodox Indigenous Studies, which promulgates the retention of old cultures, positive stereotypes, binary oppositions and false certainties. It adopts a more dialogical and process-oriented approach that highlights interactions and relationships and leads to the recognition of cultural and identity multiplicity, intersection and ambiguous difference.

The book covers key topics such as ancestral cultures, colonisation and its impacts, identity politics, interculturality, intersectionality, structural marginalisation, unit development and teaching complexity. The focus of the book is the development of a sensibility that can shape readers’ perceptions, decisions and actions in the future and guide teachers in their negotiation of intercultural classroom relationships.

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Programs of Australian Indigenous Studies have existed since the 1960s, when they were known as ‘Aboriginal Studies’ and provided for government officers preparing to work in remote Aboriginal communities. They have been institutionalised in the self-determination era and more recently in the mandated national school curriculum (as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and teaching standards). They are accompanied by many programs of cultural awareness, safety and/or competence known by names such as ‘Come Walk With Us’ and ‘Once Were Warriors’, delivered across the spectrum of health, education, welfare, justice and policing.

With few exceptions, orthodox programs of Indigenous Studies (and cultural competence) in schools, colleges and universities and elsewhere aim to build participants’ knowledge of pre-contact culture and colonial violence and its intergenerational legacy, and equip participants to practice in ways that are more culturally sensitive, appropriate and/or safe for their Indigenous students. This is expected to mean that the services they provide are more amenable and thus effective for those clients. In schooling, Indigenous Studies is part of wider attempts to better engage Indigenous students through refinements to administration, staffing, curriculum and teaching methods that reduce their ethnocentric and class-based biases, and make education more accommodating of different social and cultural backgrounds. It is expected that Indigenous students will as a result be more successful in gaining standard outcomes.

Underpinning these programs have been ‘capital C’ notions of culture1 that mythicise pre-contact culture as a distinct, internally coherent entity handed down unchanged...

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