University of Tasmania’s new subject aims to ‘decolonize’ and ‘indigenize’ teaching

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At piyura kitina / Risdon Cove, east of the Derwent River, students from the University of Tasmania sit around a fire, united in song.

Later, they will hear the stories of the Indigenous people who lived there, from Indigenous Elders and knowledge holders. They will also hear the truth about the brutal massacres that took place on earth.

It’s not the type of class they’re used to, but it’s their class today.

They were welcomed to a site that was traumatized and at the same time triumphant.

Risdon Cove was the first site chosen for British settlement in Tasmania in 1803 by Lieutenant John Bowen and one of the first sites of the massacre of Indigenous people in Tasmania by the British.

It is also one of the sites of the first land handovers that took place in the 1990s.

For students, the trip to piyura kitina is the culmination of a semester of work, learning from indigenous scholars and Palawa experts through the new Bachelor of Arts subject, ‘Indigenous Lifeworlds: Story, History, Country’ ‘.

Maggie Walter is Professor Emeritus at the University of Tasmania. (

ABC News: Maren Preuss

)

woman palawa and distinguished professor of sociology Maggie Walter formulated the course.

She said it was important for students to be prepared and do the necessary work before being welcomed into the country.

“Entering the country without being informed means you don’t get the full experience, you also risk making mistakes,” Professor Walter said.

The subject is to give students a glimpse into Aboriginal life, the Aboriginal people themselves.

“The aim is to invite students to come with us to the worlds of Palwa life to learn what it is like to be a Palawa person living in Lutruwita / Tasmania today, where we come from, this which is important to us, how we make sense of our lived realities, ”she said.

Part of this was learning how the dispossession and near genocide impacted their experience.

Students participate in Indigenous traditions.
Billy Lynch (center) and his peers were welcomed to the countryside at piyura kitina / Risdon Cove, and then took part in various Indigenous traditions. (

ABC News: Maren Preuss

)

Billie Lynch is one of the students invited to enter the country.

“The way I grew up, I kind of heard a side of the story. You really have to actively seek out other perspectives,” they said.

“Being able to have this given to me freely and with a truly generous spirit has been so precious to me, I really appreciate it.”

Create better allies

Nala Mansell, of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Center, was one of the knowledge holders sharing stories and history with the students.

She took the students around the site, sharing what life would have been like for the Natives who saw the first white settlers arrive.

Nala Mansell shares the history of Indigenous culture with university students.
Nala Mansell shares the history of Indigenous culture with university students. (

ABC News: Maren Preuss

)

For her, it is important to be able to share the experience of her people in her own words.

“It is important that Aboriginal people have the chance to tell our stories and our relationships in a way that works for us,” said Ms. Mansell.

“(Students) need to understand the real story and work with the indigenous community to right the injustices that continue to be committed against indigenous peoples,” she said.

As part of her tour of the country, she took students to a monument in Bowen, which the indigenous community has long fought for the indigenous community to get rid of their land.

“Watch the faces and expressions of non-Indigenous people when they find out that a monument to Lieutenant Bowen remains on Indigenous lands, to get people to come and ask what they can do to resolve these kinds of issues and work with the Aboriginal community… I think that’s what it is, ”she said.

Monument to Lieutenant John Bowen
A controversial monument commemorating Lieutenant Governor John Bowen, who established the first British colony in Tasmania in 1803, stands at the site.(

ABC News: Linda Hunt

)

Digory McCormack was one of the students listening to Ms. Mansell.

He said the topic had helped him find his place in Tasmania, as someone who had benefited from racism against indigenous peoples.

“While it’s unfortunate that this means the end of the topic, it’s not necessarily the beginning of the end but the end of the beginning of a new perspective – and I think that’s really exciting,” a- he declared.

University students take a guided walk through Piyura Kitina (Risdon Cove).
University of Tasmania students take a guided walk through Piyura Kitina / Risdon Cove(

ABC News: Maren Preuss

)

The excursion to piura kitina was also a sensory experience.

Ms Mansell said it was important for students to have the opportunity to learn “on the job”.

“Our country is our university,” Ms. Mansell said.

“Important gatherings, like what we have had today to pass on important stories, are part of this ongoing connection of indigenous peoples with their lands and with our culture,” she said.

“ Indigenize ” the program

About 400 students broached the subject this year, and Professor Walter hoped that number would increase next year.

The subject, Indigenous Lifeworlds: Story, History, Country is an Australian first and is part of the university’s attempt to ‘indigenize’ its curriculum.

“Indigenization brings Indigenous leadership, Indigenous scholarship and Indigenous knowledge to the academy,” said Professor Walter.

Students from the University of Tasmania have been welcomed to the country.
Students from the University of Tasmania were hosted in the countryside at piyura kitina (Risdon Cove).(

ABC News: Maren Preuss

)

She said that in the past, students were only told about indigenous peoples and their experiences from a Western perspective.

“These are the little bits, the bits that are considered cute – the dance and the food – of the culture, rather than the difficult parts of it, and this has always been interpreted through non-native eyes,” he said. declared Professor Walter.

“It’s just about tinkering around and robbing not only our Palawa people, our Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, but it robs our students of a really rich experience.”

University students participate in the consumption of sheep birds.
Part of the experience included students participating in the traditions of eating sheep birds.(

ABC News: Maren Preuss.

)

As the students participated in cultural activities today – including eating a traditional sheep bird – Professor Walter wanted to emphasize that the class did not gloss over the important things.

“It’s an academic unit, it’s not about culture… it’s about knowledge systems at the same level as Western knowledge systems,” she said.

“Most of the palawa who teach in this unit have doctorates, they are full academics and academics.”



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