Words by Rachael Hakim, Photo by Ahmad Hakim
A Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) prompts the University of South Australia to take action on measurable targets for cultural change on campus.
UniSA was the first Australian university committed to the education of Indigenous Australians in 1997. The University is now implementing the plan as part of the Crossing the Horizon project, and hopes to position itself as a university of choice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Dean of Indigenous Scholarship, Engagement and Research at UniSA, Professor Peter Buckskin, is pleased the University is changing its culture and the way it does business.
‘Australian universities, in the main, are about dominant cultures. This can be problematic if the post-colonial agenda does not reflect a more balanced history and experience of the First Australians. This contributes towards a strong assimilationist agenda,’ he says.
‘Today, universities have a real opportunity to ensure their graduates have a stronger understanding of Australia’s First Peoples and a commitment to social justice that sees their cultures and knowledge respected.’
‘As an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander graduate of the University, it is our responsibility in ensuring your culture has been respected during your academic journey and has not been devalued.’
Growing up under consequences of the policies, Professor Buckskin was denied opportunities to learn his language and culture as a citizen of the Narrunga nations.
He says that being comfortable and strong about your identity, particularly when surrounded by a population telling you to be more like them, can be difficult.
‘The implementation of the RAP must be informed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders values and voices [as] opposed to voices of the dominant culture,’ he says.
‘The more I speak out about driving the RAP by the values of the First Australians, there is a risk I could be seen as the problem.’
‘Obviously, I can sit down, be passive and complacent and be more accepted. But my cultural responsibility is to build on the legacy of my Ancestors and Elders and live by my principles, my integrity and be resilient in facing adversity.’
The RAP is working towards attracting, retaining and graduating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, and creating a university of choice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
It also plans to improve the way we engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, organisations and stakeholders by the end of this year.
UniSA Executive Officer to the Vice Chancellor and President, David Cox, says, ‘It’s happening already. For example, the accounting profession has a project called Indigenous Accountants Australia, to increase the number of Indigenous accountants in Australia. We already have a good relationship with the project through our School of Commerce’.
‘We haven’t got to the stage of identifying all those organisations but it will be to our students’ advantage that we understand how they work and what they’re looking for.’
Mr Cox believes that ‘engagement between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians could be much stronger,’ and hopes the plan will bring greater opportunities for understanding each other.
For more information on UniSA’s Reconciliation Action Plan, follow this link.