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Role of the community in school programs development | Language, Communities, Copyright, Development, Aboriginal, Often, Community, Indigenous | FATSILC, Fed. Aboriginal Torres Strait Island Languages
Role of the community in school programs development PDF Print E-mail

In a draft discussion paper entitled "The Need for Community Consultation to assist in the Development of Aboriginal Language Programs in schools", Kevin Lowe examines a number of issues raised during the development of Aboriginal language programs in NSW schools. This extract from the draft document focuses on the concerns related to copyright, and the development of an appropriate language protocols framework.

Kevin Lowe is Chief Education Officer with the Aboriginal Curriculum Unit — Office of the Board of Studies NSW.  


Issues of Copyright

AN issue of major concern in many communities has been the apparent legal transfer of copyright from members of the community, to non-Aboriginal individuals or institutions. Beyond the case of the direct appropriation of language, there have been many more subtle `collaborative' enterprises that had the unintended consequence of unwittingly transferring their copyright ownership to the crown, universities and/or individual researchers. In such cases, the law of copyright has proven to be an effective tool in assisting in the seizure of language from its Indigenous owners by these institutions who often claim to be working in their interests. As Janke notes, conflicts do not arise from the ownership of the language itself, but in the transfer of ownership that comes with the publication of language materials.

`While copyright exists in literary works, there is no copyright in languages, unless they are expressed in material form, that is, written down or recorded. Indigenous languages themselves are not protected by copyright, but expressions and compilations of Indigenous languages, such as dictionaries and word lists, are eligible for protection.' (Janke (1999) p.60)

The fact that there is no copyright protection for Indigenous people's secret or sacred material critically impacts on the control of language and other intimate cultural expressions of a community. It is the loss of control and ownership of the language and its appropriation by another foreign and invading culture, that is the cause of so much disquiet amongst the wider Aboriginal community.Without protective legislation, communities are forced to seek redress through other avenues.As Janke further notes `There is a need to differentiate between the rights over the language per se and the rights to specific materials written in language. The people affiliated with the language should be regarded as the owners of the language....As such they should be consulted in matters related to the language.'(Janke (1999) p.61)

The fact that often not even the most cursory of attempts have been made to consult communities, has made them suspicious of the motives of those who seek to work with  them in the development of programs.Trust, which can be so easily damaged, must be developed between all the key stakeholders prior to programs moving forward. Before a balance can be achieved between the competing needs and interests of Aboriginal communities, educational institutions and others interested in the development of programs, there must be an unambiguous understanding of the communities' unequivocal title to their Language. The interactions between communities and educational providers around these issues must be based on a combination of legal protections and mutually acceptable and I respected protocols. Both Janke and the Australian Copyright Council suggest various processes that would assist in the development of these comprehensive frameworks to protect the cultural, artistic and linguistic heritage of Indigenous Australians.

Developing a Language protocols framework 

The limited coverage afforded by the Copyright law, and the complexity of these legal protections for the cultural manifestations of Aboriginal communities, such as arts and music, focuses attention on the need for the development of tightly constructed consultation procedures and protocols.These would set out the ground rules for the ongoing interactions between all parties.The need to develop such a framework is highlighted when one considers the day-to-day interactions between communities and institutions such as schools.These negotiations are held well away from the gaze of lawyers, and often occur in ignorance of both the law and appropriate process. Often it is only after the event that more considered discussion highlights the anxieties that should have been acknowledged and dealt with at an earlier stage.

Kevin Lowe — Chief Education Officer with the Aboriginal Curriculum Unit (Office of the Board of Studies NSW).
Kevin Lowe — Chief Education Officer with the Aboriginal Curriculum Unit (Office of the Board of Studies NSW).
The purpose of such a protocols document would be to lay out the ground rules that would situate the various roles and responsibilities of the all key stakeholders and that would outline the processes sanctioned by all parties to assist in the collaborative development of policies, programs, and resources. The framework should articulate a clear rationale that would underpin this process, as well as providing clear advice on appropriate consultation processes.

The following are a summary of the substantive issues raised in discussions with communities and which need to be addressed within a protocols document.The points raised should be seen as representing common anxieties and concerns of communities vis a vis the development of language programs in school education systems.

Issues of Concern

  • The appropriation of Aboriginal language for personal and/or commercial gain.
  • That in the development of syllabuses and curriculum resources, there may be processes which privilege some languages above others.This has had the effect of enhancing the view that other Aboriginal languages are no longer in existence or are not as important or significant.
  • That in the process of revitalising languages, the linguistic practice of amalgamating separate languages or dialects into a single language program, (unless sanctioned by all the various communities) can have the serious impact of calling into question the language's legitimacy and authenticity.
  • That the current policy of all governments in asserting crown copyright over all teaching and learning materials produced in Government schools, may place them in potential conflict with communities or individuals when they collaboratively develop them.
  • That in asserting institutional copyright ownership over such material, the moral and
    intellectual property rights of the Indigenous contributor/s have often not been acknowledged.
  • That the community is often ignored in the selection of the person/s seen as the most appropriate within that community to contribute language knowledge.
  • Those communities are often not being provided with the opportunity to validate or veto information provided by individuals. Educational institutions must acknowledge there are multiple layers of custodianship within communities and that each must be consulted before consensus can be achieved.
  • That the language needs of communities have often been ignored by non-Indigenous language researchers who often have a different agenda to those of the community from which the language comes.
  • That language work submitted by students must fall within the ambit of these protocols. 
  • Indigenous education workers, who assist in the development of specific cultural resources, are often placed in an invidious position when they 'share' their knowledge. One consequence of this sharing, has been the transfer of both knowledge and of copyright to the employer as a consequence of the subsequent development and publication of materials.

The issues listed above do not purport to be exhaustive, but reflect the degree to which Indigenous communities perceive present legal failings and their sense of impotence in asserting controls over their language. Current Government policy efforts being made to engage Aboriginal communities in programs to improve student outcomes will only occur when appropriate consultative processes are put in place.

Consultations, which flow from dealing with these issues, must demonstrate in real and tangible ways the importance of Aboriginal communities in both the development of positive student aspirations and increased cultural capital through community developed language and cultural programs.