Shaping the future of Indigenous law

Earlier this year Sydney Law School held the inaugural Indigenous Legal Research Workshop, designed to foster young Indigenous researchers and scholarship in the field of Indigenous people and the law.

Written by Tanya Mitchell

Shaping the future of Indigenous law

Generously sponsored by Gilbert + Tobin, the idea for the workshop grew out of an unusual set of circumstances.

Gilbert + Tobin previously made a donation to Sydney Law School in order to employ a Chair in Indigenous Law. Unfortunately, due to the small number of candidates in law who meet the criteria of being both Indigenous and at chair level, the Law School was unable to recruit anyone to the position.

Law School Dean Professor Joellen Riley reflected upon the role of the University of Sydney as a Group of Eight institution, in contributing to the development of Indigenous researchers and scholarship on issues relating to Indigenous people. It was this inquiry that led to the establishment of a workshop to help foster aspiring academics and the development of a community of scholars in this diverse field.

Nineteen PhD candidates and early career researchers from places as far afield as Kalgoorlie, the Torres Strait and New Zealand travelled to Sydney, with the assistance of the Gilbert + Tobin funding, to participate in two days of mentoring workshops, relationship-building and sharing of work, ideas and experience.

Six highly regarded academics – Professors Chris Cunneen, Kathleen Daly, Heather Douglas, Elena Marchetti and Senior Lecturers Dr Asmi Wood and Dr Thalia Anthony – donated their time to be academic mentors.

As the participants presented their work, it became clear that there is an exciting diversity and strength in the projects being undertaken, which heralds a bright future for scholarship relating to Indigenous people and the law.

Dr Arlie Loughnan

In addition to the presentation and feedback sessions, there were two mentoring sessions. The first was conducted by Lynette Riley of the Wiradjuri/Gamilaroi nations, a Senior Lecturer and the Academic Leader (curriculum) from the National Centre for Cultural Competence, Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services) at the University of Sydney. Lynette ran a session on the sensitive ethical and political issues surrounding research with Indigenous people.

The second mentoring session was on a topic of great concern to all aspiring academics: how to write articles that are attractive to the most prestigious and/or most appropriate journals. Dr Arlie Loughnan, Associate Professor and ARC Postdoctoral Fellow at Sydney Law School facilitated this session, sharing her experience as an accomplished scholar and editor of the Sydney Law Review and tapping into the wealth of experience of the academic mentors.

Without exception the participants and academic mentors expressed their delight at being provided the opportunity to meet and appreciated the supportive atmosphere and ethos of the workshop. This was the first forum of its kind in this field and everyone was keen to stay connected.

With this in mind, Professor Riley is working with her Wingara Mura – Bunga Barrabugu and IT teams at Sydney Law School to set up a website where the participants and future emerging scholars can be in contact, share their work and post materials of interest. We will also be investigating ways to continue the mentoring process.

(Associate Professor Arlie Loughnan delivers her talk at the workshop)

Sydney Law School would like to thank Danny Gilbert of Gilbert + Tobin for his inspiration, ongoing generosity in relation to Indigenous issues and for making this exciting event possible.