• It is simply not enough to embed Indigenous perspectives into University teaching and learning. (AAP)Source: AAP
Opinion: We cannot go backwards and allow non-Indigenous people to speak on behalf of us today, or for our future, and especially not for our ancestors, writes Robyn Oxley.
By
Robyn Oxley

Source:
NITV News
12 Aug 2020 - 3:20 PM  UPDATED 1 Sep 2020 - 1:45 PM

For too long now it has been widely accepted that non-Indigenous people take up the spaces that Indigenous people should occupy. To be an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander academic in Australia is a feat in itself, and I say this simply because the engagement between Aboriginal people and the education sector, namely universities, has predominantly been subjected to research by non-Indigenous people.

In recent decades we have seen a shift in the amount of Aboriginal academics in Higher Education. Universities are Historical White Institutions (HWI) that have directly contributed to the cause and effect of social constructs of Aboriginality – the stereotypes, or the picture in your head when you think of an Aboriginal person. The racist assumptions made by non-Indigenous people about Aboriginal people are as prevalent in research and literature as they are in the questionable stereotypes often portrayed in popular media. 

As Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people start to occupy the spaces that have controlled the research relating to Aboriginal people over the past 230 years, we see these black academics taking back that control. That is, unless these HWI continue the ‘Mission Manager’ approach of appointing non-Indigenous people in leadership and/or executive roles when they should be Indigenous identified positions.

It is simply not enough to embed Indigenous perspectives into University teaching and learning.

It is simply not enough to embed Indigenous perspectives into University teaching and learning.

In his book; A first perspective of Indigenous Australian participation in science: Framing Indigenous research towards Indigenous Australian intellectual sovereignty, Professor Lester-Irabinna Rigney examines the struggles for Indigenous people to have self-determination and sovereignty over Indigenous Australian studies.

Prof Rigney stresses the need for Western discourse to change the way in which Indigenous knowledge is produced by non-Indigenous researchers. The issues around power, control and Western authority is explored in order to break down the dominant paradigm in research. A timely reminder that we must assert our Indigenous authority, sovereignty and self-determination in our spaces.

To have sovereignty over our research extends to the spaces where we undertake the research.

Without speaking for other Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people, I make sure I know exactly whose Country I am on and I make sure I respect the land, the peoples and their culture. I tread lightly on their Country – the same often cannot be said for non-Indigenous people.

To have sovereignty over our research extends to the spaces where we undertake the research.

There is often no accountability, no one to answer to, when the research on Indigenous people is conducted in a manner that is not decolonised, and that underpins the very existence of Aboriginal Knowledge. In fact, it is the opposite. Career progression is expected, awards, recognition through the Aboriginal knowledge, the use of Aboriginal intellect and use of Aboriginal labour.

We must dismantle these systems and centre self-determination in all we do, say, teach, and learn and most of all, in our research. We must make the decisions over who enters our space. We must make the decisions regarding who sits at our table and whose voice is elevated.

In her book, Whiteness, epistemology and Indigenous representation, Distinguished Professor Aileen Moreton-Robinson examines the representations of Aboriginal people in Australia as the ‘other’ and states that the justifications for land tenure was a result of Cook’s representation of Aboriginal people as ‘uncivilised’. This resulted in our lands being claimed by European settlers – non-Indigenous people. We must not allow this to continue through the loss of sovereignty over our own Knowledges.

It is not enough to simply have Indigenous people on a committee and call it diversity.

It is simply not enough to host a symposium and request an Indigenous voice to represent the topic, unless that voice is centred. It is not enough to research on Indigenous affairs when you have no right to be present in our space. It is time for non-Indigenous faces to step down within black spaces.

We cannot go backwards and allow non-Indigenous people to speak on behalf of us today, or for our future, and especially not for our ancestors.

For over 230 years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and peoples have been subjected to the constant researching by non-Indigenous folk. Not to say that some of the research has not been beneficial and seen political and social change, but it has also continued the dominant paradigm of white ways of knowledge. This is a vastly different concept to that of Aboriginal Knowledge. I call this out because of a few reasons.

We cannot go backwards and allow non-Indigenous people to speak on behalf of us today, or for our future, and especially not for our ancestors.

We must call out institutions who take no responsibility for misappropriating Aboriginal Knowledge systems by allowing non-Indigenous people to lead and act as ‘Mission Managers’ over Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing, being and doing.

Far too often we see non-Indigenous people in positions of power and control over Indigenous people’s lives.

We have seen the devastation and destruction from non-Indigenous people taking up space and making decisions on behalf of Aboriginal communities: the Howard government forcibly established the NT Intervention in 2007; Tony Abbott appointed as the Indigenous Envoy in 2018; for five years, from 2013 to 2018 we had a non-Indigenous person, Nigel Scullion as the Aboriginal Affairs Minister; and more recently we have seen the appointment of a non-Indigenous person as the director for the Indigenous Knowledge Institute at the University of Melbourne.

This article is not a new cry for Aboriginal Knowledge to be protected. 

We must have sovereignty over what we research and we must stop allowing and accepting that non-Indigenous people are centred in our space. Academics have built careers on the backs of black people, often with only a mere mention of them on the acknowledgement page. The result of failing to cite the works of Aboriginal scholars is a lack of recognition on the research that Aboriginal people have undertaken in our own right, and the denial of self-determination and sovereignty over our knowledges. 

We cannot be silent on this issue anymore. We must be loud, for we know too well to be silent is to be complicit in the continued white superiority over black voices in research and Indigenous Knowledge Institutes.

Robyn Oxley is a Tharawal and Yorta Yorta woman. Robyn is an Aboriginal scholar and Lecturer in Criminology at Western Sydney University in the School of Social Sciences.