March 25, 2014

Kevin Rogers talking up strong and the ignorance of Munanga

Old Kevin Rogers at Ngukurr is lovely, clever, skinny old man. (Not OLD-old, but old enough for me to call him in 'old man' in that Aboriginal term-of-respect type way). If a Munanga visited Ngukurr today, they might easily overlook him and probably never realise that he is a university graduate and former principal of Ngukurr School.

An article of his, 'Blekbala Kaltja at Ngukurr Community School', was published in 1991 in a volume called "Aboriginal Pedagogy: Aboriginal teachers speak out". It contains this great quote:
Some Munanga working in Aboriginal Education have a one-sided view of curriculum. They feel that Munanga knowledge taught and structured in a Munanga way is more important than Blekbala knowledge. They undervalue Blekbala knowledge and when training Blekbala teachers they try to force them to have a Munanga pedagogy. They understand very little about Blekbala Kaltja and their attitudes of superiority make them oppressors of our culture (Rogers 1991: 149)
When I first lived in Ngukurr in 2004, times were different. It was pre-Intervention. ATSIC had only just been dismantled. School council still had discretionary funding (called ASSPA) and a handful of local qualified teachers still worked there full-time. You needed a permit to visit and the community still ran the local council. Along with that went the regular community meetings where everyone would gather at the council office around a crackly PA and debate whatever issue was the hot topic of that week.

I really feel that thesedays - especially post-Intervention - the idea that remote Aboriginal people have the knowledge and authority to shape and control their own lives is fading among Munanga. The prevailing attitude is increasingly that we know best and that remote Aboriginal people somehow need saving from themselves. In the self-determination era, Munanga tried much harder to simply support Aboriginal people to get to where they wanna be. Now we (Munanga) are much more dictatorial and the wants and desires of Aboriginal people are more easily rendered irrelevant. The problem that old Kevin identifies in his quote above has become much worse.

But I digress somewhat. Going back to Kevin's original point in his quote above - that Munanga undervalue Blekbala Kaltja and our attitudes of superiority make us oppressors - I can recall a perfect example of what he's talking about:

A couple of years ago, I was on a bush trip with old Kevin. He was taking a bunch of Munanga to see some spectacular places. On the trip, he was telling us about what his surname should be, if missionaries hadn't have given his family the surname Rogers. The name was a clan name from Numbulwar area - a long name, I think it was Numamurdirdi. In response, a Munanga who worked full-time for the Education Department (and had been in Ngukurr for a couple of years had opportunity to learn a thing or two), then said something like 'Oh well I'm glad you've got the name Rogers then!'. She thought she was being funny and cute, referring to how intimidating the name 'Numamurdirdi' was to her. But to me it was a perfect example of the ignorance of some (many?) Munanga that old Kevin had written about twenty years earlier.


Rogers, Kevin. 1991. "Blekbala Kaltja at Ngukurr Community School". In Aboriginal Pedagogy: Aboriginal teachers speak out. Geelong, Deakin University Press. 144-150.


Bindi Isis said...

This is a great quote from old man Numamurdirdi about the power and the place of respectful pedagogy. I find it distressing to think of the huge shifts in community regard for education that must happen as new teachers and principls come and go....let alone the shifts that take place with vast trasformations in government policy, funding and approach.

Roger + Noella said...

Agree agree agree... Nothing but agree, wamut. People at the school seem to forget that children cannot be disconnected from their family and culture...and when we talk about connection and family ties it seems like such a foreign concept.... Sad that that staff member never understood the value of what Kevin was saying...

Charlotte said...

During the 30+ years I have worked in East Arnhemland I have watched the heavy, irratic hand come down forcing out from education in schools Blekbala knowledge,pedagogy,languages,arts & connection of all types in the name of outcomes, results, funding & national statistical needs.
We are now contained in classrooms, desperately trying to control behaviours, so that we can teach to achieve our western learning outcomes.
Reflecting on earlier times. We spent more time emerged with family & community members going on numerous excursions- on foot! to gather experiences & knowledge. These were used as a basis for our work in both languages alongside the department ciriculum.
A certain soul essence & connection has been lost in our school environments, for both students & teachers.
Today I was heartened by an ABC article by Avani Dias. " Blending Aboriginal culture with modern education in Arnhemland." Written specifically about Yirrakala School.
Maybe the tide is turning.
I love the strength of schools & communities that can passionately & strongly work together, leading the way that others may follow.
Giving the children the best of both worlds, particularly a strong foundation in all aspects their own world view & life first.