Indigenous scholars challenge researchers by Stephen Hagan 27 March 2014
minent Professors Aileen Moreton-Robinson (pictured), QUT Director of the National Indigenous Research and Knowledges Network and Linda Tuhiwai Smith, Dean of the School of Maori and Pacific Development, University of Wellington, NZ, challenged fellow scholars and students to conduct ethical research that is accountable to their Indigenous communities on the opening day of the three day AIATSIS National Indigenous Studies Conference in Canberra. “We must never lose sight
of where we come from,” said Professor Moreton-Robinson at the Breaking Barriers In Indigenous Research and Thinking Conference held at the Convention Centre. “Because it is from those backgrounds that we gain the inspiration to undertake the research that has delivered us to the positions we hold today.” “Although at times we might feel we live in a small silo in a big institution that appears hostile to Indigenous researchers most of the time, we must understand our relationship with the Indigenous community,” Professor Smith, author of best seller Decolonising Methodologies, told the captivated
audience in an unambiguous tone. “If you are not accountable to your Indigenous community you’re no different from the nonIndigenous researchers who abuse their relationship with Indigenous communities they befriend for their own selfish means,” she added. Professor Smith said she was concerned about many of her undergraduate Maori students who are ignorant of the politics that have shaped their lives and that of their parents and grandparents. “What’s this decolonizing thing all about?” Professor Smith told the audience of the extent of the naivety of her students’ question and added the follow up question
from them is always, “Were we colonized?” Professor Smith (pictured above) shared her challenges with other scholars in the academies she’s worked in. “Working in the academy where Indigenous studies was the domain of white male anthropologists who had all the answers to challenging their theories on race has been an uncomfortable transition,” she said. “Not only for them, but also for me and many Indigenous scholars who started in this business decades ago.” Professor John Maynard, Wollotuka School of Aboriginal Studies, Newcastle University told the audience that Indigenous Australians have demonstrated their struggle, survival and inspiration through published works that “has contributed to knowledge creation”. “Our history has been
conveniently ignored in the early history books by historians,” Professor Maynard said. “They’ve even gone to great lengths to write out the conflicts that existed.” He acknowledged that whilst Australia was built on racial exclusion “it is now up to Indigenous historians and scholars generally to write our history from our perspective”. Renowned Aboriginal advocate and historian Gordon Briscoe didn’t mince words when he said the “gods of our early history, anthropologists, who could order the removal half caste children at the stroke of the poisonous pen” where in fact scholars “who fostered secrecy”. “The anthropologists are like the missionaries who go into our Aboriginal communities – some actually do good work amongst our people – but in the main they’re
a secretive mob as you’ll never see their journals on what they’ve written about us,” Briscoe said. “These people had so much power over our lives but yet they never put their work out there for Aboriginal historians like me today to go over and make our own conclusions.” Briscoe implored anyone contemplating or starting research to “put in the hard yards” and most importantly “to do your homework and research thoroughly”. “Don’t be afraid to use your prejudice against the authors of the work you’re researching because what you write can inform research students in years to come of your perspectives on other people’s work,” he said. The conference continues today beginning with a keynote address by Professor Martin Nakata, University of New South Wales.