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Inside Teaching : June 2010
Inside Teaching | June 2010 INDIGENOUS EDUCATION 14 Who are the 'real' Indigenous Australians? In my own experience in education, I've often been surprised by colleagues who have questioned me for identifying as an Aboriginal person, most often because of the colour of my skin. If I 'look white,' they apparently reason, I am not really Aboriginal, so why would I choose to so identify myself? There are two assumptions in that question, the first being that my identity, in terms of my family and upbringing, is somehow not important, and the second that there's something wrong with being Aboriginal -- why would you wish to claim Aboriginal heritage if you could avoid it? I've had conversations with colleagues where it seems to be the case that the colour of one's skin is the primary marker of one's identity. How simplistic is that? It's not exactly a way of thinking you'd expect from professional colleagues, supposedly educated people to whom we entrust the education of all young Australians. This business of skin and colour is not just personal, or academic. You see, besides the colonial story of territorial acquisition by way of the legal fiction that this country was terra nullius, a land that belonged to no one, there's another story to do with the idea that 'the real Aborigines' live 'out there somewhere.' Such thinking may be because colonisation pushed Aboriginal people out of the expanding areas of white settlement into the so-called empty spaces, the harsh, arid country that was, apparently, good for nothing -- inferior country for inferior people. So when many teachers think of Aboriginal schooling, they think of the 'real Aborigines' as being out there in what we now call remote locations or re-settled on the missions or reserves that we now euphemistically call communities. Statistically, though, the majority of Indigenous people are city dwellers. In fact, only a quarter of all Indigenous Australians live in remote areas. The notion that 'real Aborigines' live 'out there somewhere' is not exclusive to teachers. Government funding has long demonstrated a similar tendency -- statistics show where people live, but they also uncover the funding trail. No one would deny the disadvantage of Indigenous students who live in rural or remote communities around the nation, but we must guard against overlooking the needs of those Indigenous students who live in regional or urban locations. Poverty is poverty and disadvantage is disadvantage regardless of where one lives. Teaching Indigenous students If we're to succeed in teaching 'real' Indigenous students we need to engage them in the learning experience, but that, says JEANNIE HERBERT, can also help us to prepare them for successful futures in the western and Indigenous cultures they inhabit. 'real'