Monday, November 23, 2009

NIEC 2009: Engaging with Community and Culture

The theme for day 1 at the National Indigenous Education Conference (NIEC) was Engaging with Community and Culture. It was a pretty full day, but here is my wrap up for day 1.

The International Keynote Address was given by Dr Lorna Williams in the morning. Many delegates are commenting on how inspirational they found Dr Williams' presentation, particularly for bringing a Canadian perspective to the conference. Dr Williams advocates the importance of Indigenous educators and elders within education systems.

The conference is so huge there are seven parallel sessions running at once. Lyn and I attended the sessional keynote from Greg Lehman who gave us all much food for thought. Lehman talked about the importance of defining and constructing Indigenous identities, particuarly for young Indigenous Australians. Lehman asked questions such as - how do we address the cultural identity of Indigenous Australian students? Lehman finished his presentation by proposing that Indigenous australian students may need to define a 'new' type of cultural identity for themselves, one that is relevant to the beginning of the 21st century.

In the afternoon I attended several presentations, but I will focus on the very inspirational presentation from Tricia Rushton. Rushton discussed the Smith Family's scholarship program called 'Learning for Life' which provides students with essential learning resources, such as backpacks, textbooks. Importantly students must continue attending school to receive their scholarship money. Currently about 4,000 Indigenous students receive a Learning for Life scholarship.

Rushton particularly stressed that the role of the Smith Family at schools was in establishing relationships, rather than purely about outcomes - between teachers, schools, communities. For example at Ramingining school, the Smith Family supported an breakfast initiative called the Breakfast with a Mentor for parents and students before school. The impact of the Breakfast with a Mentor was that students became less violent, more focussed, and arrived on time to school. Rushton argued that the Smith Family was a broker for setting up and supporting relationships.

Rushton finished with a very thought-provoking thought from a Yolongu Ramingining leader "The Smith Family walks with Yolngu until we don't need you anymore".

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