A new approach to Indigenous studies

13 January 2016

The University of Sydney has a proud history of engagement with Indigenous education and Indigenous Studies.
The University of Sydney has a proud history of engagement with Indigenous education and Indigenous Studies.

Students enrolled in education degrees at the University of Sydney now have the opportunity to enrol in new Indigenous studies units of study offered by the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

The new Indigenous studies major was launched at Info Day and units of study offered within it will be of particular interest to students wishing to qualify as Aboriginal Studies teachers.

Demonstrating the University’s commitment to Indigenous participation, interdisciplinary scholarship and cross-cultural dialogue, the new Indigenous studies major marks a new era in Sydney’s decades-long commitment to Indigenous education and the emergence of Indigenous studies as an internationally recognised discipline.

The University of Sydney has a proud history of engagement with Indigenous education and Indigenous Studies. The new Indigenous Studies major has its roots in the Aboriginal Teacher Aides program that began in 1975 and led to the establishment of the Koori Centre in 1992.

The Koori Centre was dedicated to training Indigenous pre-service teachers and over time became central to Education degree programs for Indigenous teachers, many of whom now teach in schools and communities across Australia.

More recently, the Koori Centre developed an Aboriginal Studies program and established an Indigenous Studies major in the Faculty of Arts in the late 1990s.

Academic coordinator of Indigenous Studies and senior lecturer in the Department of English Dr Peter Minter said the new major was an exciting and significant development in the faculty’s historical commitment to Indigenous studies,”

“What sets this major apart is not only its cultural and philosophical integrity, but also how it consolidates Indigenous Studies as a discipline in the Faculty or Arts and Social Sciences," he said.

“It’s a demonstration of Sydney’s commitment to a cutting-edge discipline that has become increasingly visible and internationally consequential in recent years.”

Driven by a new cross-faculty Indigenous Studies Governance Committee, the Indigenous Studies major draws on the experience and expertise of former Koori Centre academics and colleagues from across the University.

Inspired by a commitment to prioritising Indigenous content, scholarship and voices in a disciplinary framework that is broadly decolonising, a June 2014 workshop established a set of guiding principles and discipline-led goals for the major, including commitments to:

  • Indigenous political, economic and cultural integrity and advancement
  • Indigenous community integrity, health and wellbeing
  • cultural and environmental sustainability in Indigenous country
  • cross-disciplinarity and engagement with Indigenous studies nationally and internationally
  • faculty and cross-faculty engagement that welcomes the perspectives, expertise and fellowship of non-Indigenous colleagues across the University
  • reconciliation and the enhancement of the cultural competence of students and staff across the University.

Students in this major will learn about the diversity, strength and complexity of Indigenous societies, cultures, knowledge and history. They will be taught by leading Indigenous and non-indigenous academics as well as members of the community, enjoying opportunities to engage with contemporary Indigenous life in ways that are culturally informed and respectful.

The teaching program is exciting and innovative, offering students a mix of face-to-face lectures, seminars and hands-on tutorials alongside advanced online modes of teaching and collaboration, not to mention a range of excursions to, for instance, museums, art exhibitions and literary readings.

“In the senior year students can take an advanced directed research project,” Dr Minter says.

“We are encouraging students to think independently and reflect critically in a sphere that is culturally informed and respectful.

“Our students will understand the implications their learning in terms of their own lives and issues that have deeper significance nationally and internationally.”

Enquiries about this program should be directed to to the Academic Coordinator of the Indigenous Studies major Dr Peter Minter, email