By Tabitha Lean
How can the uni be a better tenant and pay the rent too?
Oh let me count the ways!
Ok, I have many suggestions but today I’ll just share one. I firmly believe that the university should not be charging any Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander identifying student a course fee for learning any Indigenous language at the university.
Let me explain the basis for that statement in three easy to follow steps:
- Pre-invasion this country held more than 250 languages, with a range of 600 dialects
- Cook declared the country terra nullius, colonised the land, and put our languages to sleep through policies of assimilation, dispossession and grand scale land theft
- Now the university, a colonial institute, want to sell us back our languages for a fee
I mean, call me crazy…but it just sounds like more colonial violence to me…
Language for many of us connects us to an ancestral framework of knowledges and ancient wisdoms and is deeply rooted in our connection to land and country. Knowledge of our languages can play a critical role in mediating a sense of identity and belonging for our mob in a colonised Australia. For me personally, my language was taken from my family through the process of colonization. My own personal decolonisation goal for this year has been to learn my mother’s language and use it in everyday life, as well as through my academic writing. This process of awakening the language has returned a fire to my lips and has been enormously rewarding. I feel closer to my mother than I ever have, even though she is no longer with me, and I feel like learning my language is an important step in ensuring cultural continuity within my family.
Without the brutality of colonisation we would all be speaking our language, and likely several others. In my opinion, the university has an opportunity (and obligation) to support many Aboriginal students to have access to a language, even if it is not their own, and to “pay the rent”, so to speak. In my view, it is unethical and an act of colonial violence to only allow access to our own languages, to our own people, for a fee.
I know this may sound radical, at least that’s what I’m told (when really it sounds common sense to me), but real restorative measures need to happen if the university is not just going to pay the rent but be good tenants also. And what a great way to start….free our languages by providing them for free to our mob.
Feature artwork by Tabitha Lean