Indigenising the Academy: Indigenous scholars as agents of change
Ka'ai, Tānia M. (2005) Indigenising the Academy: Indigenous scholars as agents of change. In: World Indigenous Peoples' Conference on Education, 2005, Hamilton, Aotearoa, New Zealand.
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‘Indigenising the academy’ is becoming an axiom among Indigenous intellectuals in critiquing their position within the western academic world. Native Studies in North America, Saami Studies in Norway, Mäori Studies in Aotearoa/New Zealand, Hawaiian Studies in Hawai’i and Aboriginal Studies in Australia are examples of educational initiatives within the academy for the recovery and transmission of Indigenous knowledge. Yet often, these disciplines struggle for acceptance within their sector due to the lack of recognition of the status of Indigenous peoples. This is manifested in either a lack of resourcing, a lack of representation in senior management or from being located on the periphery of their respective institutions. Hence, the role of the Indigenous scholar is to make the academy responsive to Indigenous educational initiatives and aspirations while sustaining the respect of their communities. It is proposed that the axiom, ‘indigenising the academy’ means to make the academy both responsive and responsible to Indigenous people’s goals of self-determination and well-being. This requires a huge effort by Indigenous scholars to be committed to transforming the academy. To engage in this work, requires a redefining of the academy from an agent of colonialism to a platform for decolonisation. This role requires Indigenous scholars to both individually and collectively establish a continuous, visible and active presence at tertiary institutions and to facilitate what bell hooks (1994: 12) refers to as “education as the practice of freedom.” This is no easy task because not only does the academy play a role in the colonisation of Indigenous peoples, but it has a huge investment in maintaining control over: who defines knowledge, who has access to knowledge and who produces knowledge. Therefore, it follows that should the Indigenous scholar adopt the responsibility to challenge the very foundation of the academy, then they become a threat to the very power and authority claimed by the academy. Furthermore, these challenges to the academy are often based on the Indigenous scholars’ unrelenting commitment to ensure that the collective interests of their people are sustained and that the Indigenous voice is accurately represented within the academy. Paulo Freire (1993: 112) describes those historically ‘oppressed’ people [in this case the Indigenous scholars] who work towards liberation from the ‘oppressor’ as ‘Revolutionary Leaders’ who “. . . cannot think without the people, nor for the people, but only with the people. The dominant elites, on the other hand, can – and do – think without the people – although they do not permit themselves the luxury of failing to think about the people in order to know them better and thus dominate them more efficiently”. These struggles for recognition in the academy can, over time, erode the spirit, particularly as Indigenous scholars within mainstream higher education are usually a minority and are often dwarfed by the overwhelming numbers of non- Indigenous people.
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