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Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs
Language learning in Indigenous communities

HARRIS, Ms Janice, General Manager, Institute for Aboriginal Development; and Director, Lhere Artepe Aboriginal Corporation

KOPP, Ms Bonita, Director, Institute for Aboriginal Development; Lhere Artepe Aboriginal Corporation

STOKES, Ms Fiona Rose, Director, Management Committee, Institute for Aboriginal Development

TURNER, Mrs Margaret Kemarre, OAM, Elder, Central Arrernte, Institute for Aboriginal Development; and Lhere Artepe Aboriginal Corporation

TURNER, Ms Amelia, Apmereke-Artweye for Irlpme Estate, Central Arrernte People, Lhere Artepe Aboriginal Corporation

TURNER, Ms Patricia, Chairperson, Institute for Aboriginal Development

WALLACE, Mr Peter, Kwertengerle for Antulye, Central Arrernte, Institute for Aboriginal Development; and Lhere Artepe Aboriginal Corporation

CHAIR: Welcome. You were not here when we started, so we will acknowledge again the traditional owners of the land upon which we meet and pay our respects to their elders past, present and future.

Mr Wallace then spoke in Central Eastern Arrernte

Ms A Turner : I am going to interpret what he has just said. He is the kwertengerle, the keeper, of this land where we are having this meeting now and he has really a strong belief in language and culture.

CHAIR: Thank you. Do you have any comments to make on the capacity in which you appear?

Mrs Turner : I am one of the key finders of the map that we are going to be looking at here.

Ms Harris : I am a native title holder for the Undoolya country. I regard it as being a real privilege to sit here with my family and to sit here with the owners of this land in this meeting. I welcome you. It will be fantastic for you to share the important information that we have got.

Ms A Turner : I am an interpreter in my own language and the other languages that I speak.

CHAIR: We are in your hands, and we are happy to hear what you have to say. We obviously will have some questions, but we will hand the meeting over to you to give your presentation. We are here to listen and to learn.

Ms P Turner : Thank you. We wanted to go through and explain to you the importance of our languages and the centrality of our languages—but in this case we are explaining it to you through Arrernte, which is the main language for this area, this country that you are on today—and the role of IAD in terms of wanting to reconnect our people and rebuild the language skills and the cultural knowledge and to do it properly, and to make sure that you have some insights into our world view about the centrality of language in our total wellbeing. We want to take you through this map, which was developed and articulated by MK Turner. Also we want to present you with that book and we want you to have a copy of this map. In that book is a chapter on language. At this point, Amelia will give you some insights into how important language is, the centrality of it to us and our connection to our country, what is means to be an Aboriginal person and the important role that language plays in that. If Amelia can read that out to you at this stage—MK unfortunately has a very bad chest—we can get the interaction going after that.

Ms A Turner : This is a book from my mum. It is just written down in English at the moment because it is all done in Arrernte, but some of it is all in English as well. Our language is sacred to us. Every Aboriginal language is sacred for those who speak it. Words are given to us by the land and those words are sacred. What does it mean to an Aboriginal culture? The land needs words, the land speaks for us and we use the language for this. Words make things happen—make us alive. Words come not only from our land but also from our ancestors. Knowledge comes from Akerre, my own language and sacred language. Language is ownership; language is used to talk about the land. Language is what we see in people. Language is what we know of people—we know of him or her. If they speak my sacred language, I must be related to their kinships. Language is how people identify themselves. Being you is to know your language. It is rooted in your relationship from creation—in your kinship that cycles from then and there, onwards and onwards. It is like that root from the tree. Language is a community—a group of people. Not only do you speak that language but generations upon generations of your families have also spoken it. The language recognises and identifies you, who you are and what is you. Sacred language does have its own language. You can claim other languages through your four grandparents. Know your own language first before you learn other languages—to know it, to understand it and also to relate to it.

Ms P Turner : Thank you, Amelia. Our view was very well placed in this map by MK. Bonita, do you want to explain any more about the map and the connection of language through everything coming from the land?

Ms Kopp : We come from Maranunggu. That is the ground country of ours—in the middle there. As Aboriginal people who belong to that land, our children must be taught in language to understand all those things that come out in that country area. They got to have knowledge for it to know who they are and what it means to them and also to learn more and get a stronger understanding. They need to be knowledgeable of it they are going to talk in our way—in two ways—to translate all this and how we see it. This is not just to see on the map; this is for everywhere else. No matter where they are, all aboriginal people in every country have got that; all indigenous people have that. Indian people have that. They all have that. But if those children want to learn the curriculum in school they must know the language from the ground, where they are from and who they are. If you are an aboriginal person, you have got to know about your language; you have got to know about what land you are from and what language you speak—your grandmother's language, your grandfather's language. It is going to be of use in the future to your children. You must get taught that language in two ways. You must be a strong person, a strong child, a strong man or woman, an adult going to school, a teenager learning. You have got to understand this stuff.

Ms Turner : IAD has a strategic vision: 'Strong people, strong culture, strong future'. What we have found is that through the effects of colonisation, assimilationist policies and so on, a lot of our people, including me, are very familiar with the government system—I have been a senior bureaucrat for many years—but are not as studied in their own culture. That has been caused by policies and practices such as assimilation policy and the effect that has had on the new generations. While we have many of our people in Central Australia—and we are fortunate that we still have elders that understand all of this and are happy to share this knowledge—we have a lot of people who have been disengaged. We think that a lot of the social issues today stem from the weakness of our people's identity and their lack of knowledge and understanding of this total connectivity and our world view of how things work. We have many people who supposedly have been educated in schools but are still illiterate and innumerate even after they graduate from school.

We believe that bicultural education is a very important way for our kids and our young people to get ahead in the education system. IAD is very firm in wanting to adopt this as our curricula and for this to guide us in the future work that we do with all of our people who have been disengaged because of their lack of identity, their lack of understanding and their lack of knowledge about our true cultural heritage and language. We want to start with Arrernte. If other groups would like us to assist them, we are happy to, but we have to start with Arrernte because we are on Arrernte land.

In relation to what the government are doing with their policies in this area, we have only one chance a year to apply for funding through the Office for the Arts. There is a total bucket of only $9.6 million for languages, and that is totally inadequate. We need to re-build and re-establish our language centre. You cannot do culture without language; you cannot do one without the other. We also need to work with our people to ensure they have bicultural competencies. On that note, I will ask Janice Harris to explain that to you a little bit more.

Ms Harris : For you to have an understanding of what bicultural competencies concern, I have written up a couple of pages here. They give you an understanding of why we are going to approach our teaching and learning programs the way that we are going to approach them. All programs will be taught within an Aboriginal cultural context, which is provided by this model. This approach will make our language program more than bilingual; it will make it bicultural. There is a clear distinction there. The language program developed and delivered will be founded on the areas that you see there. We regard those as fibre learning areas: country, ground, ceremonies, relationships, people, animals and plants, and ancestral spirit.

Ms P Turner : They are shown on the black circles on the map.

Ms Harris : We have developed a learning statement. In our language program, the participants will develop a critical understanding and appreciation of cultural techniques and technologies related to the Arrernte language. They will investigate, understand and communicate about the language and how the language works. They will also develop a sense of personal and cultural identity which will equip them for lifelong involvement in and appreciation of not only of the Arrernte culture and language but also the western culture. This approach in teaching has survived for 60,000 years. Even though there have been amazing struggles, it continues to survive.

The everything comes from the land approach is unlike current approaches used in teaching a language. At present, the Cartesian, mechanistic, ontology approach used has failed Aboriginal people in their language development. In this approach the mind and the body are separate, and rationality and emotions are seen as antagonistic. A subjective and objective fragmented view makes reality very difficult to perceive. The everything comes from the land model is a different teaching perspective from which the participants can expand their understanding of a range of human possibilities. Mrs Turner's model is not unlike a lot of other models that have been trialled and used throughout the world, where languages are taught in a multi dimensional way, and that is what we see here in front of us.

The everything comes from the land approach will align the content of the language to the learning style of the individual. In order to speak well in a language and to learn that language, there must be an alignment with learning styles. At present, the western learning styles really do not and are not appropriate to facilitate learning in our Aboriginal people. This map gives us an opportunity to develop a learning program that is suitable for Aboriginal people. It is contextual learning and we all understand what that involves. It is a way of learning and a very successful way of learning because it brings together the culture and the language. It is not teaching language in isolation of culture.

During its 40 years in operation, IAD has developed a profound catalogue of Aboriginal cultural material and maintained significant contact with very important Aboriginal people. IAD has always been in the best position to provide individual and group experiential learning situations that promote traditional Aboriginal teachers and assist people in learning the language. Learning experiences also allow for self directed learning and incorporate the values of non-interference, non-competitiveness, sharing and a sense of personal community responsibilities, which are something that is lacking in our present society. The inclusion of Aboriginal role models enhances a person's understanding of Aboriginal people's perspectives and enhances the self-esteem of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students. That is why our program will be taught by Aboriginal people taught by Aboriginal elders.

CHAIR: Is this a new program that you are talking about? Because you already offer certificates at the moment, don't you, in a number of courses?

Ms Harris : That is a good question. We do offer a number of—

CHAIR: I am sorry, I will ask that again. Is this a new program, because you already offer certificates I, II and III in a number of courses at the moment?

Ms Harris : Now those certificates, I, II, and III, are accredited certificates, Western certificates. What we do is enhance that Western approach with the cultural approach. By doing that, we are adapting our training and our learning styles to the learning styles that Aboriginal people have inherited over years and years by having that bi-cultural approach.

Ms GRIERSON: Having spent 30 years in education, I have seen many curriculum frameworks and I have never seen a more comprehensive framework for Indigenous learning and Indigenous knowledge than this one. It is a most amazing document. Have you a copyright for it?

Ms P Turner : Yes.

Ms GRIERSON: I think it is something that our education minister in Canberra needs to look at too. To put that all down and synthesise it into hierarchies is an amazing achievement. What a wonderful tool. I have never seen something as well done as this. And for it to be graphically presented as well is just wonderful.

Ms Harris : Do you want to say something about that, Bon?

Ms Kopp : Thank you.

CHAIR: We are giving you a pat on the back.

Ms Kopp : That is good. We were teaching languages to students and other children going to school and also to people coming into our workplaces. We have just been teaching the language to them but we have not got this out to them. We have been giving them the names of plants and trees but we have not really expanded the connection of this to the people that we have taught in the teaching area.

Dr STONE: Who are the students at the institute, at your centre? For example, could a non-Indigenous trained teacher come along and overlay their teaching with a course using this curriculum? Do they get a certificate? Is there certification for this course? Are there some elements of this which should only be learned by those who actually come from this particular country, Arrernte?

Ms Harris : The first question that you have asked is: is there a formalised program that would assist a Western person in being able to teach a bilingual program? No, we are in the stages of developing that. The answer to your second question is: yes, it is possible and we encourage Western teachers or non-Indigenous teachers to teach with a bi-cultural approach. I have worked very closely with all of these and I am gaining an understanding of the connection of this. And to work alongside a Western person who wants to learn that same sort of connection is a dream come true. The IAD would relish it being formalised so that we could develop a program so that it is formalised, it is financed, so that we can develop it in an effective way or how it should be developed.

Ms P Turner : We are currently doing our new strategic plan at IAD. We have raised this with the local bureaucrats and briefed them on it. Some of them get it and some of them do not. It is an extremely complex issue to get their heads around, because it is not in the silos of normal program and project funding. In order for us to do this properly, we need to be able to employ our own people first. We need to take our own people who need this knowledge and understanding and for them to immerse themselves in our cultural heritage and then become proud, upright standing people rather than being overwhelmed by the barriers that they encounter every day. We want to start with our own people in terms of reengaging them in our cultural heritage. We think that by teaching them by cultural competencies and giving them strong roots in our own worldview they are then better able to engage with the broader community. There has been a big gap in services and policies provided by governments. We will need government funding to do this properly, but it has got to be done the Aboriginal way. We know who our elders are. We know who our leaders are. We know who is competent in teaching this and who has the authority in our group to teach this. Then we can teach them how to engage.

For example, when we teach numeracy and literacy, at the moment, it is done in a bicultural context. We asked Aboriginal people who were involved: 'What does literacy mean to Western people and what does literacy mean to Aboriginal people?' They are totally different concepts. Then we tried to get them to understand the other side. IAD itself, as an organisation, is a great supporter of bicultural education. At the moment, the Northern Territory does not even really embrace bilingual education. The Aboriginal teachers, who are the holders of the knowledge and have the authority to teach that, should be as equals in the classroom with the white teachers, or the Western teachers. There are all these sorts of things that we want to do, but we need to do it to engage our own people first so they can then be proud and strong and stand tall to participate in other things.

The emphasis of government in the last few years has been jobs, jobs, jobs. We cannot even have our people literate and numerate to engage in jobs, jobs, jobs, because they have not had the basic knowledge to enable them to engage in a bicultural world. We need to get back to basics in relation to the proper way for our families to do this. We can teach them at IAD. We have the proper people who are our advisers and who will guide us through this and make sure that our teachers properly understand all of this. Then we can do the other stuff with teaching others. But at this point the emphasis has to be on our own people first. Because we are on Arrernte country and I can tell you, the Arrernte people here are the poorest and have the least services and the least return on sharing our country with everybody else. That includes other Aboriginal people from other areas of central Australia, who do not even belong to this country.

CHAIR: Pat, we will finish up soon because we are running over time. Peter, would you like to say a few words before we finish up?

Mr Wallace : Thank you.

Mr Wallace then spoke in Central Eastern Arrernte

Ms A Turner : I would like to rephrase that in English. Kwertengerle said, 'It is good how it is all set up and I think it is really good to pass it onto the next generation, so they too can learn it.' As I read out earlier on, it is really true what he is saying. We Aboriginal people have always passed our knowledge down. Today, it is a world that has been corrupted by white man's things, but we have still got to look back to this model—to our ways.

Ms A Turner then spoke in Central Eastern Arrernte

Thank you.

CHAIR: I think that is a great way to finish that presentation. We really appreciate your taking the time and we wish you well. This was an excellent presentation. I think it is outstanding. I love the comment: 'Language is the custodian soul of the land. Language identifies who we are and what we are.' That is a fantastic concept. It is outstanding.

Ms A Turner : When we talk about language and culture, we always, as you see in any meetings, sit in a circle. That is how we share our language and culture, share our stories. It is not just straight life. That is not right for our people. Always in a circle. It is for a better understanding. If we talk in circles there are a lot of things that are going to be viewed and heard.

Ms P Turner : We would like to tender as part of our submission this map and a book by MK Turner. There is a chapter in here on language.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. We appreciate that very much.