What reconciliation means to us
May 31, 2021 - May 31, 2021
Oorala Aboriginal Centre University of New England Armidale, NSW 2350
What reconciliation means to us: Sovereign futures and settler education systems.
Over the past 30 years, Australian educational systems at all levels have embraced the idea of reconciliation. The Australian Curriculum, pedagogical practices and qualification standards, particularly in the compulsory schooling system, include greater recognition of Indigenous people and issues than ever before. The Reconciliation Barometer now tracks public sentiment on how reconciled Australians feel, and large public institutions and businesses – from hospitals and universities, to mining companies and private prison operators – have Reconciliation Action Plans. The promise of reconciliation held by this discursive shift is a future in which the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people is harmonious and equitable.
The role of education systems in creating this reconciled future is a powerful one, yet it often relies on a rhetoric of innocence and childhood, casting into the future the settler state’s responsibility for addressing injustice in the present moment. As we mark a generation since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, and a generation of the political compromise we now know as ‘reconciliation’, it is timely to consider what purpose this idea serves those who remain the most incarcerated peoples on earth.
In considering the political purposes to which the idea of reconciliation is put, our mechanisms for assessing progress towards this goal, and the role of schools and universities in educating those who carry the work of reconciliation into the future, it is necessary to interrogate the power of an idea that seems to promise so much and deliver so little. The terms on which reconciliation proceeds can only be those determined by Indigenous peoples. Understanding what reconciliation means to us, and the processes through which we as sovereign peoples determine that meaning, offers a way through the infantilising nature of much reconciliatory discourse.
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