Canadian Voices now sharing with us PDF Print E-mail

IN Victoria, British Columbia, the FATSIL delegates attended meetings at the Ministry of Education, and with the First Peoples Cultural Foundation.

In Vancouver they met with heads of the State Tri-partite committee for Education and Cultural Affairs.

 

Kevin Lowe reported on a key direction of conference discussions. "A consistent theme through the conferences was the necessity for communities to take ownership of the process of language revival, and not to rely on the work of individuals within universities and schools to create teaching pockets.

It's in the areas where communities have an entrenched  belief in the importance of their languages, that the revival process has seen them flourish, even for groups who came from the position of having no remaining fluent speakers. Importantly, these programs also show signs of having achieved long term sustainability."

In response to the Canada meetings, FATSIL invited Peter Brand from the First Peoples Foundation in British Columbia to attend the Sydney conference. Peter presented workshops introducing the Sydney audience to the foundation's techniques for raising awareness and sponsorship, as well as demonstrating the "First Voices" web based archiving database, which incorporates sound, text, images and video in an interactive multimedia application.

With sponsorship from Apple Mac, the technology workshop included the use of a bank of laptop computers, and the opportunity for delegates to input and experiment with data from their own wordlists and orthographies.

The Canadian First Peoples Foundation is growing with support both from Government and from corporate sponsors including Dr David Suzuki.

For more information on the 6th World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education, visit the website www.fnahec.org/

In his address to the conference, Senator Ridgeway compared the educational profile of the languages of other nationalities in Australia, with the lack of recognition or financial support given to our own.

"Australia's Indigenous languages remain outside the official language status of the country, and as a consequence, receive little financial resources compared with international economic languages like French, Japanese or German.

They aren't even recognised as national languages. This is despite the fact that there has been an increased willingness to support and promote languages, which are seen as of economic benefit to Australia. Just look at the fervour with which the education system has embraced and promoted Asian languages — especially Indonesian and Mandarin."

Senator Ridgeway also pointed out the willingness of businesses and organisations to capitalize on the appeal of Indigenous culture, while  unaware of the role of language.

"Australians are proud to showcase Indigenous cultures in international events like the Olympic Games or display it on our national carrier, Qantas. Many non-Indigenous Australians are developing a much deeper appreciation of Indigenous art and our range of cultural expression —from the visual art of Central Australia or Arnhem Land, which is steeped in tradition and the embodiment of secret-sacred information — to our contemporary film makers like Ivan Sen, Rachel Perkins and  thers.

Yet Indigenous languages remain a complete mystery — a relic of traditional communities in only the remotest part of the country — to the majority of non- Indigenous Australians." The Senator said there was a need for greater recognition, co-ordination and adequate resourcing at the Commonwealth level for community language programs, but praised the more encouraging initiatives emerging at the State level.

Senator Ridgeway maintains involvement with his own Gumbayngirr language group and is a member of the Geographical Names Board in New South Wales. He said the aim of the dual naming policy was to restore and recognise the Aboriginal history that exists in every corner of
the State; overlay Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal histories; and provide a very immediate context for Aboriginal cultures, languages and experiences, by showing that people's suburbs have an Aboriginal past and present.

Education and opportunity

"The topic of Indigenous languages being taught in our schools will always be controversial and ongoing debate will be contentious.This should not deter us from our course and inspire us even more to promote rights to language and overcome the surveillance modes of the Australian state, which prevent Indigenous languages from enjoying full support.

In my view, the critical issues will of necessity seek answers to the following questions:

  • Identifying the major impediments affecting Indigenous language policies in education, and these
    policies might constrain broader public and Indigenous community discussion of policy alternatives?
  • How does the government use official language policy to restrict or deny access to Indigenous languages? That is political and cultural governance.
  • Identifying why promoting and supporting the teaching of Indigenous languages are crucial to a process of decolonisation, which has subverted and undermined social and cultural value within Indigenous communities?
  • How can Indigenous people be supported to promote and maintain languages relevant to Indigenous social and cultural needs which are vital to success in Australian life?

Answers to these questions are so important with a growing youthful Indigenous population in this country. It is in this vein, that we have a responsibility to give our children the best possible education, and the skills they are going to need to succeed without compromising cultural identity. They already have those skills and that knowledge in their cultures, their languages and their history- and we have a responsibility to pass that information on — or to make sure that it is revived and reaffirmed at every possible juncture."