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We Will Never Close The Gap Unless We Open Our Kids' Minds To Indigenous Culture

Kiwi schoolkids know more about indigenous culture than some Australian adults.

01/06/2017 7:24 AM AEST | Updated 01/06/2017 7:30 AM AEST
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"Why hasn't the government done more to support Australian indigenous culture in education?"

I was born in the early 1990s in Australia. Growing up in the Northern Suburbs of Melbourne, I was fortunate to have friends from an indigenous background. Through them, I was able to gain an insight into indigenous culture and the Aboriginal way of life.

However, when I try to recall what aspects of indigenous culture I was taught from my conventional Australian early education schooling years, I genuinely struggle. The most I could offer are some vague memories of completing dot paintings. Maybe a music lesson with some clap-sticks.

As a child, I feel as if I was as informed about Australian indigenous culture as that of a foreign tourist.

It is this kind of sentiment that encapsulates the recollections of indigenous culture education for the majority of Australians of my generation.

On February 13, 2008, the 'Sorry' apology to the Stolen Generations offered by then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was seen as a milestone towards the reconciliation for indigenous peoples of Australia.

Yet, as a Year 8 student, I did not understand the significance of the gesture. I did not understand the magnitude of atrocities committed against indigenous Australians. I did not understand how severely marginalised a society could be in their own native country. Put simply, I did not understand Australian indigenous culture.

As for quantitative evidence, under the life expectancy estimation formula adopted by the ABS in 2003, statistics show that the indigenous life expectation inequality gap when compared to the general Australian population is approximately 17 years.

Not only highlighting a concerning disparity of equality, these figures also reveal that indigenous peoples' life expectation appears to be similar to that of people in underdeveloped nations.

I knew our support for indigenous Australians wasn't great, I just did not know it was that bad.

So I began questioning, why hasn't the government done more to support Australian indigenous culture in education? Isn't it something we should be focusing on? Why aren't there more businesses focused on supporting education in indigenous culture?

The lack of exposure instigates a sense of detachment to a culture that I should not only be knowledgeable about, but should be proud of.

Retrospectively, as a child, I feel as if I was as informed about Australian indigenous culture as that of a foreign tourist. This shouldn't be the case. And it certainly isn't for all indigenous cultures in other nations.

A fantastic exemplar of native cultural integration can be seen with our neighbours just across the ditch, with the Maori people in New Zealand.

Without change, as Australians, we will continue to feel alienated from our ancestral counterparts.

All children (indigenous, non-indigenous, foreign) from an early age are educated on traditional Maori culture including aspects the values, norms, language, food, music, dance (e.g. the Haka -- compulsory in primary education); a way of life.

There are even two national anthems. This communal approach to indigenous culture can almost be described as a characteristic of New Zealand citizens and, as a consequence, is inherently then transferred onto future generations. Thus, as a nation, we should learn from our equivalents, especially one so close to home.

Children should grow up being informed about the native culture of their country. They should appreciate the history of the land in which they inhabit. I believe Australian children should be offered the same opportunity.

From a societal perspective, a certain level of respect for one another stems from an indigenous form of cultural awareness and understanding. Children develop a deep-seated allegiance to culture native to their land. However, this cannot happen without help from our education systems.

If we forego the opportunity to educate ourselves in a culture, we will never truly be able to appreciate the culture itself. This is especially pertinent in fostering cultural integration from the key formative ages in youth.

The reality is it may be too late for us to truly be able to connect with indigenous culture. However, for present children, education can make a difference to their understanding and appreciation of indigenous culture. Without change, as Australians, we will continue to feel alienated from our ancestral counterparts.

And this in turn begs the question; do we want future generations to end up with these same feelings of cultural detachment? Do we want the future to feel disconnected?

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