Thursday, May 13, 2010

Embedding Indigenous Knowlege - What's Your Investment?

Picture this scenario. Kids in bed, its quiet and peaceful, nothing’s happening just sitting in front of the telly, my partner and I reading the weekend papers, drinking tea. And there’s a story on the front page of the paper - a football player (or coach) has managed to get himself into trouble (a spear tackle perhaps? a real cruncher? swapped codes? jumped ship & went off to France?). Its all over the paper, there’s letters to the editor, an editorial, every-one’s got an opinion. Will he be suspended? Will he be allowed to play? Can he keep his contract? Will the club be fined? What should/should not the NRL do about it?
Inevitably, as an avid reader (though in general a sports loather), I’ll get caught up in the issue, and I’ll ask my partner questions and we’ll engage in an interesting conversation (at least for me anyway, I can’t attest to the interest level for him) about the issue. I’ll have an opinion. Then I’ll go to the arts section, and promptly forget the issue, who was involved, what it meant for the game and so on. And this scenario is repeated a couple of times every season and then again for the cricket season.
At every conversation though I’m very much aware that I frequently forget players names, the issues, the rules and my partner (bless ‘im) is forced to repeat the same information over and over again (kind of like when I’ve had a few too many & I constantly have to ask “what’s trumps again?”).
The issue is that I have not embedded new knowledge about the game. I know that any serious embedding of knowledge would require years and years of committed study. My partner has been following Rugby League since he was a boy, first as a junior player, he reads Rugby League Week & other publications, watches games (though not as many as he would like), and discusses issues with his peers. He has invested time, energy, thinking, and a little money into getting to a point where he can have an informed, meaningful and critical discussion about the issues that come up each week and each season.
I’m telling this story, because it fascinates me that many people believe that they can devote the same shallow-curiosity that I have about sport to developing their own understanding and awareness of Indigenous issues.
I am frequently asked simplistic questions in relation to Indigenous issues that indicate to me that the questioner has not given more than a passing thought to the topic. Questions like, “Do Aborigines really want an education?”, “what do Aborigines think about …..” etc etc. Prefacing your question with “I know I’m ignorant but…..” really doesn’t help. And in my experience, “I know I’m ignorant but …” folks generally already have an opinion in their mind anyway.
Of course, being a super polite person, I’ve not yet learned how to “death-stare” these people out of my existence (oh how I wish I could sometimes), and I’ll inevitably attempt to address questions that actually require hours and hours of discussion to get anywhere near to a meaningful answer. But that’s actually not fair on the questioner or me, because I quite honestly do want to answer these questions. I am deep down someone who believes that it’s the small opening of minds that will change the world.
But my request is, if you want to know about Indigenous people, if you’re really truly interested, then you need to think about what you’re willing to invest in embedding new knowledge. Think about how you’ll be challenged in addressing your assumptions, values and pre-existing ideas about Indigeneity and Australian-ness. There are thousands of books, hundreds of movies, many websites that you can use to start your journey. There are many Indigenous voices out there in EVERY level (from children’s literature through to top-tier academic works), but it ultimately is up to you to decide What’s Your Investment?

(Originally posted on InquiryBites blog on March 16, 2009)


  1. Well said! Love this article.
    It is the same here in Aotearoa. When an issue about Māori people hit the news, suddenly, everyone whoa has no embedded real knowledge about Māori, have an opinion.

    1. :-) Sounds familiar. And with the Australian Curriculum coming in, everybody is freaking out "we have to embed Indigenous perspectives OMG!". I feel like shouting back "YOU SHOULD HAVE BEEN DOING THAT ALL ALONG!!!! so I don't feel sorry for you"


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