AARE

How to reimagine research for self-determined Indigenous futures

An excerpt from Associate Professor Nikki Moodie’s keynote, opening the 2021 AARE conference on Monday November 29.

Indigenous education research – in its broadest sense – is so oriented to addressing the harms that the western schooling system has visited upon us, and the urgent work of attenuating the most immediate challenges – that there is little space to do work that imagines otherwise, or even sometimes to see the answers that Indigenous people have been offering for so long.  The great challenge before us is to imagine schooling futures, education and work futures that in and of themselves are Indigenous. What does it mean to have an Indigenous future? To step into the vision that our ancestors had for us, to be good ancestors to people who come after us, and to have the skills and capabilities to live full, meaningful, contemporary Indigenous lives?

In education, health, economics and policy research overall we see comparatively less focus on self-determination or even cognate ideas of Indigenous Lifeworlds or cultural continuity, and such a prevalence of work either mapping the damage or some small attempt to heal the damage. It is possible that when we turn away from the idea – not just the language – of self-determination, we end up diminishing Indigenous rights as either ‘cultural’ or ‘racial’ constructs. This turning away does little except to depoliticise the basic land-relation that defines both Indigenous and non-Indigenous life on this continent.

Sometimes we might see the language of self-determination in policy and practice, but often only as a euphemism for consultation, as a last-ditch effort to save a failed policy or program. So self-determination as a concept has been off the table for a while, for a myriad of reasons. But self-determination is about Indigenous rights, and Indigenous rights in education require difficult thinking about what it is that schools, universities and governments are obliged to do for all citizens, and what it is that Indigenous people have the right to exert authority over. 

But even if the language is contested, self-determination remains a right enshrined in the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples to which Australia is a signatory. And it contains a useful entry point to the nature of the collective self that Indigenous societies mobilise. 

New targets in the new Closing the Gap policy, and the greater involvement of the Indigenous service delivery sector in the development of those targets, may indicate a deepening recognition of the ways in which Indigenous Lifeworlds are different to the lives of White and non-Indigenous people of colour in Australia. Particularly with regard to engagement in education and employment, greater recognition of Indigenous languages and connection to Country may allow deeper conversations about what it means to pursue an Indigenous future in the Australian settler state. Whilst there has been a move away from comparing Indigenous people to non-Indigenous people in the newest iteration of Closing the Gap, and characteristics of the non-Indigenous population are not necessarily established as parity goals, this policy still has some distance to travel before it is able to accurately represent the challenges that Indigenous people face – and the aspirations that we hold to empower ourselves.

Too often, research in Indigenous education begins by establishing the “context” – listing the statistics, describing the government policy, and marking the urgency of the need for reform. 

We lay out some gains that have been made, how Indigenous people are ‘making it work’, how we’re adapting to the system and slowly getting better outcomes. But these inequalities are design features of a system that – in its most benign state – was never focused on our aspirations. Any achievements we eke out of this system are achievements in spite of, not because of settler colonial benevolence. What the research and data on education show is that we are indigenizing, adapting the settler institutions that govern our lives to achieve a best-fit in systems that render participation in society in a very particular way. But that requirement that we ‘make do’ – that we seek a best fit – itself does harm. Other ways are possible, and those other ways of imagining research that supports cultural continuity, Indigenous collective and relational authority, perhaps are yet to see their fullest expression in our research endeavours.

The caveat to that is that Indigenous people – land councils, nations, community groups, businesses – are making decisions on the basis of evidence, are directing research, and are collecting the data they need to govern their own lands and people. How we support those voices, those decision-makers, their aspirations, hopes and pathways for their own children and communities gives us the opportunity to reimagine education research in its rightful place – in service of the aspirations of Indigenous collectivities, in Australia and around the world.

How we educate for self-determination – both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people – opens up possibilities beyond anti-racism and cultural awareness, as we all move towards treatied relations, in recognition of the Indigenous right to determine our own futures. 

Associate Professor Nikki Moodie is a Gomeroi woman and sociologist based at the University of Melbourne. Nikki holds a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in Political Science from the University of Queensland, and a PhD in Sociology from the Australian National University. After an early career in the public service, she moved into research focusing on higher education, social networks and Indigenous governance. Nikki is the current Program Director of the Atlantic Fellows for Social Equity, a 20-year philanthropic program focused on Indigenous-led social change.

AARE Refugee Statement

The Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) is deeply concerned about the severe impact and harm being caused to refugees in immigration detention in Australia. We add our voice to the list of associations, organisations and professions that condemn the current situation on Manus Island and Nauru, and Australian refugee and asylum seeker policies more generally.

It is now more difficult to accurately ascertain how many people remain in the offshore processing system because of how the Australian Government reports on: issues related to asylum seekers; numbers of people living in ‘regional processing centres’; and those left living outside the ‘regional processing centres’. However, other sources indicate that the situation remains dire. Amnesty International estimates that the Australian government has ‘indefinitely trapped over 1,200 men, women and children on Nauru and over 800 men on Manus Island’, and the Refugee Council estimates that there are more than 900 people left in Nauru and more than 700 left in Papua New Guinea.

AARE is the national association for fostering educational research in Australia. Established in 1970, AARE promotes, supports and improves research and scholarship in education to enhance educational processes, policy and practice at all levels, for the public good.

The following statement was signed by over 200 AARE members and sent to the Prime Minister, the Minister for Department of Home Affairs and the leader of the Opposition late in 2017. A year later it seems that little has changed. This situation seems indefensible and we call for the well-being of those who remain within the asylum seeker offshore detention system to take priority as a human rights issue over politics.

 

STATEMENT:
The Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) condemns the inhumane treatment of refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island. 

We demand that the Australian government urgently provide medical services, food, water, and other services to those in need, and to take immediate action to resettle these asylum seekers and refugees safely.

We believe that the current situation whereby asylum seekers and refugees have been abandoned is a breach of their basic human rights. We regard the current situation on Manus Island to be the product of an indefensible refugee policy. We call on the Federal Government and the Opposition to make immediate changes to Australia’s refugee and asylum seeker policies, including a review of practices related to off shore detention within centres on locations such as Manus Island and Nauru. Children, families and adults are currently being held in detention for long periods of time under Australian authority, and as educators we condemn this policy.

 

Thanks to the many AARE members who supported this statement and particularly those members who first presented this as a motion at the AGM and who helped write the original Statement.