A journey of uncomfortableness: walking the path of decolonising higher education with Jindaola
An Aboriginal ‘way’ towards curriculum reconciliation
Jindaola is an institution-wide staff program which reflects an Aboriginal way towards reconciling Indigenous and non-Indigenous knowledges in higher education curriculum. Grounded in Country, Jindaola takes interdisciplinary teams on an extended journey towards ‘curriculum reconciliation’.
In our new article in a special issue of Teaching in Higher Education, and as part of our own unfolding journey, we unpack our emerging understandings of curriculum reconciliation. As an Aboriginal ‘way’ to reconciling knowledge-based relationships Jindaola operates between the spaces of Aboriginal knowledges and western knowledges. This is uncomfortable. It disrupts the western ideals of the university. Decolonizing academic development therefore, is a contested space sitting within Australia’s history of colonization and its unique reconciliation journey; from a place of terra nullius and sovereignty never ceded. And while Australian Aboriginal people are known to be the oldest continuous culture in the world, they continue to live under enduring policies of terra nullius. Yet within this space, and on this journey, Jindaola has been transformational for program participants, and as a team of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal researchers we are finding ways to articulate this evolvement.
Each year Jindaola takes interdisciplinary teams on an 18-month journey towards curriculum reconciliation: this is a process, where participants reflectively reconcile their own disciplinary knowledge with Aboriginal Knowledges embedded within the Country on which they teach. Our feet are on Yuin Country. Grounded in Aboriginal methods, Jindaola redresses higher education’s reliance on inappropriate and ineffective ‘packages’ of Aboriginal content dislocated from Country, rejecting tokenistic approaches that commodify Aboriginal Knowledges.
Admittedly, this is a non-Indigenous theoretical perspective, however heterotopia is productive in explaining how Jindaola creates and holds for its participants a counter-hegemonic site of resistance within these western landscapes, where the dominant social order can be found to be wanting, norms transgressed, and new subjectivities emerge.
Our paper has a dual purpose: the first is to continue to build on our previous paper which conceptualised and contextualized an Aboriginal way towards reconciling Indigenous and non-Indigenous Knowledges within the context of Australian HE curriculum. Through analysis of interview data subsequently collected, we are coming to a better understanding of curriculum reconciliation as it is shaped within the space and context of the program, as decolonizing academic development is the place where curriculum development is often supported.
The program itself operates at the intersections of the local Knowledge holders who endorsed the program and the mainstream, neoliberal institution, which provides funding through a grants process. The program is neither fully placed in one nor the other, but operates in a different space. Decolonizing thinking through knowledge-based relationships precedes any [non-tokenistic] curriculum change, but how is that ‘space’ created? Our second purpose therefore is to speak back to our own institution, which through its neoliberal blinkers, does not fully comprehend the transformative potential/value of curriculum reconciliation done ‘proper way’.
By framing the process through a heterotopic lens, we are able to articulate this work at the intersections through a construct that can be understood and interpreted by those in academia who are not yet immersed in the literature around decolonising curriculum, and because this is precisely where the relationship and the interface exists. Heterotopia is best explained, less in clarity of definition, and more in terms of the work it can do. So, we have deliberately used this concept to show how Jindaola: directly resists the pressure to take a western transactional approach to curriculum development; deliberately usurps the resources of the academy to this end; and provides a sustained, embodied, relational and affective experience to enable its participants to navigate their own personal and shared journey towards curriculum reconciliation between two bounded systems of knowledge: Country and the academy.
While heterotopia is not the only lens that could be used to make sense of how the program operates at the site of occupation and resistance within the academy, we feel it is an appropriate one. At this point in our journey.
Jade Kennedy (University of Wollongong), Alisa Percy (University of Technology Sydney), Lisa Thomas, Catherine Moyle and Janine Delahunty (all University of Wollongong)
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