Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Indigenous Australian Perspectives in Early Childhood Education

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Early Childhood

Indigenous Australian Perspectives in Early Childhood Education

Article excerpt


I am a Biripi (Manning river, mid-coast of NSW), Worimi (Karuah river, Hunter region, NSW) and Irish woman. I was born in Eora country (Sydney area), grew up on beautiful Awabakal country (Lake Macquarie area, Hunter region, NSW) and these days I'm privileged to reside with my family on Bundjalung country in Lismore. I acknowledge and pay my respects to the spirit ancestors from all of these places. I offer this paper as an account of my own life experiences and research in relation to the concepts of respect, identity, relatedness and education. I am an Indigenous Australian woman, who was, like many other Indigenous Australian people, raised in a non-Indigenous family. I had a happy childhood: I loved my mum, dad and big brothers, and they loved me.

I grew up during the 1960s and 1970s, a time in Australia when being Indigenous was not exactly fashionable. Being fair-skinned enabled my parents to raise me as a non-Indigenous person, justified by the popular societal belief that all Indigenous people required 'protection'--protection from our identities and heritage, protection from our families and communities, and protection from the racist society in which we lived.

Western educational philosophies

At the basis of my childhood educational experience is the western education philosophy: the goal of becoming the 'realised individual', the independent 'self', who gains status and succeeds as powerful and autonomous through processes of free choice, independent action and rigorous competition with members of their own family/community/society (H. R. Bell, 1998, pp. 45, 63; Berman, 1988, p. 160).

The curriculum centres on and values the abstract and theoretical--based on natural scientific reality, evidence and logic--with experiential learning as secondary and supplementary. The very things that are central to Indigenous world views--the imaginary and creative, the spiritual and psychic, life skills, relationships and notions of community--are all presented as objective perspectives, themes and extras (Japanangka errol West, 2000; Mudrooroo, 1995, p. 112-3; Lawlor, 1991, p. 171; H. R. Bell, 1998, p. 62; see also Harker & McConnochie, 1985).

Through this education system, I learned to read and write and I learned how to survive in modern society. But I also learned a false constructed version of Australia's history. I learned that there was only one way to think, one way to live--the 'western' way--and that all other ways were at best deficient, and at worst deviant. I neither learned nor felt any real sense of relatedness or connectivity.

In 1980, I found my way home and met my biological family for the first time: mother, grandmother, sisters, brothers, aunties, uncles and cousins. I was both elated to find that I had a large extended Indigenous family and confused and frightened that many of my family members were extremely poor, ill, dependent, despondent or just plain angry. I applied what I had learned at school and began to discriminate against my own family. I tried to run away, back to the reality of the world that I had been taught at school. I tried to put my family, heritage and history in the 'too-hard basket'. I could not.

I found my way to Gnibi College of Indigenous Australian Peoples at Southern Cross University. Here I learned the true history of Australia; I learned the facts about the current reality for Indigenous people in Australia. I learned that there are many valid ways to perceive and live in the world. This learning enabled me to break down my barriers of ignorance and discrimination so that I could understand, relate to and therefore respect my family, our history and heritage. It is the principles and concepts of this learning and research journey that I'd like to explore.

Indigenous Australia

Australia has always been a multicultural continent. At least 350 nations of Indigenous Australians have lived here, 'since the beginning'. …

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