Day 2 of the Indigenous Higher Education Curriculum Conference (see Day 1 highlights here) began as all conference days should – with dance! Having the Redfern-based Brolga Dance Company share their stories with the 149 attending delegates in the form of Aboriginal Contemporary and Traditional dance was an inspiring start to the day.

Student voices

The storytelling continued with what is always a highlight at education forums – hearing from the students themselves. A non-recorded session with four Indigenous students following their pathways to graduation and beyond allowed for their candid conversations to be a shared experience for those present at the conference. In the spirit of this, it’s not appropriate to be specific on their personal experiences here, but two clear themes emerged:

  • Negative experiences in some workplaces and institutions prior to UTS who were tokenistic or performative when it came to integrating Indigenous perspectives
  • Positive experiences with Jumbunna as an integral stepping stone and safe space to build trust and provide support for students – one student described them as his ‘second family’

Animal, vegetable, mineral: weaving Indigenous perspectives into Science

A series of presentations from the University of Sydney gave us some insight into how non-Indigenous academics collaborate and consult to embed Indigenous perspectives and knowledge into their curriculum. Biology lecturer Matthew Pye suggested ‘weaving’ as a more appropriate term than ’embedding’ so that both aspects maintain their integrity. He also noted fear as a barrier for making a start to the process, while human geographer Rebecca Cross noted that not having an internal Indigenous voice or a developed Indigenous Advisory Group were challenges to moving forward.

Jaime Gongora presented a collaboration between non-Indigenous and Indigenous academics that explored ways to raise awareness of Indigenous Knowledge Systems related to animals, and the implications of this on research and professional practice. Applied themes included perceptions of animals, use of animals across cultures, traditional practices to conserve and manage animal diversity, weather knowledge related to animals, and animals in dance and music.

Integration of these cross-cultural perceptions:

  • Increases awareness of diverse perspectives on animals
  • Promotes respect for Indigenous communities and clients
  • Assists creation of optimal services for diverse communities
  • Helps animals reach optimal health and welfare
  • Provides a context to reflect on the impact of animal perceptions on professional practice and research

Identity and Law

A presentation from Charles Sturt University showed how the Twenty Statements Test (giving 20 answers to the question ‘Who am I’?) is used to help students reflect on who they are. To understand Indigenous themes and perspectives, students need to understand themselves. This allows for the further reflection for students: What will be their developing professional identity and how can it be celebrated, not erased or devalued like minority identities have been?

Also in the afternoon, processes for integrating Indigenous perspectives and cultural capabilities in Law subjects were presented by speakers from Western Sydney University and UTS’s Robin Bowley.

Making a start

When are we not teaching?

Professor Robyn Quiggin

Michael McDaniel, a member of the Kalari Clan of the Wiradjuri Nation, stepped in to give the closing address. He recalled a recent conversation with Robyn Quiggin, the UTS Pro-Vice-Chancellor of Indigenous Leadership and Engagement, where they observed that “we wake up as teachers, we teach all day, we go to bed.” And not just teachers – also councillors, for their own people and the guilt of the non-Indigenous people.

He expressed gratitude that we have reached the point where we can come together to explore ways that higher education curriculum can be decolonised for the purpose of developing Indigenous graduate attributes. However complex and demanding, you can’t wait for the resources or the capabilities – you have to just make a start.

Moving forward

I’d like to thank Conference Convenor Annette Gainsford, the speakers and everyone else behind the scenes for a thoughtfully curated and engaging event full of diverse perspectives. We look forward to maintaining connections and developing collaborations, and hope to share many stories on how Indigenous graduate attributes are weaved into the curriculum at UTS in 2023.

You’re welcome to join the launch of the new Indigenous Graduate Attributes website at UTS on Thursday 15 December:

Invite to IGA website launch on 15 December, 12-2pm at the Ariel Function Centre. RSVP by 9 December to and include dietary requirements

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