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The present Australian government's approach to coordinating and delivering (funding for) general services to Indigenous people has failed on its first trial. That's the conclusion drawn in an article on a leaked report by Bill Gray (Chris Graham and Brian Johnstone in the National Indigenous Times). So, what happens about coordinating and delivering money for maintaining and documenting Indigenous languages in Australia? How much is spent? Does more go on documenting than on maintaining and supporting education? I got asked these questions the other day, and had to admit surprised ignorance. (Hey, I SHOULD know. I'm a tax-payer). Here's a start on answering - based on web-trawling.. and maybe some readers can add to it - help, is there an econo-statistician handy?

Do we spend more money on documenting or on maintaining languages?
It's hard to judge - does creating a picture dictionary count as documenting or maintaining? My top-of-head guess is that the money spent on Indigenous language programs in schools and elsewhere, and on interpreter services, probably outweighs the money spent on documenting. It might be a close call, if you factor in 'preserving' - the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) needs, and has received, a lot of money for digitising its sound, video and picture collection (e.g. from the Federal Government Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST) in the 2005 Budget).

Who pays for Indigenous language education and where are the policies to support them paying for it?
Schools are the responsibility of state governments. I didn't have the time to go through the states individually, and so I went to the Federal Government's Department of Education, Science and Training website. No mention that I could see of funding for Indigenous languages in schools. I did find there a reference to the project Investigation into the current provision of Indigenous languages programmes in Australian schools (July 2006 – August 2007). We can only hope it comes up with sensible national policies to support and fund Indigenous languages in schools and that the policies are adopted... In 2002 there was a recommendation as part of a Languages other than English survey that

the new National Languages Policy Statement explicitly recognise a role and responsibility of the Commonwealth for the protection, maintenance and promotion of the Indigenous Languages of this country.

I don't know if this happened.
So where does the money for Indigenous languages come from?
What used to happen is preserved like the bones of a diprotodon in an old FATSIL webpage:

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, Broadcasting, Language and Culture Section (ATSIC)
ATSIC provides funding under the Preservation of Indigenous Languages and Recordings (PILR) Output to:
•support community-initiated projects aimed at maintaining, reviving, recording and reclaiming Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages;
•promote the use and development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages; and
•improve awareness and appreciation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages amongst the wider Australian community and government agencies involved in language and literacy issues.

In 2005 the Government abolished ATSIC as the central coordinating and funding body for Indigenous people.

Who funds what now?
Hey-ho, a-web-hunting I did go. ATSIC was replaced by a "whole-of-government" approach coordinated by the Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination (OIPC). They provide a booklet about the new arrangements (with a small caveat that restructuring might have made the booklet out of date...). Wading through many handsome pictures of paintings, shells, smiling people.., I found one mention of Indigenous languages - as being the responsibility of the Federal Government Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts (DCITA), along with sport and broadcasting.

OIPC also provide a link to the Indigenous budget 2006 coordinated across all portfolios. Take a look. I could only find one item in the Federal Government's 2006 Indigenous budget that was even faintly language related: the Attorney-General's department is funding Northern Territory Indigenous Interpreter Services.

This bit of trawling suggests that DCITA is the major provider of funds for Indigenous language work (outside of AIATSIS's research grants). So, to DCITA! Great, a page entitled Indigenous programs which has some good links - including to the best recent general discussion on Indigenous languages - National Indigenous Languages Survey Report 2005.

What DCITA will fund is laid out here:

Program funding supports the recording and transcription of Indigenous languages, the development of language teaching materials such as dictionaries and wordlists, CDs of songs in language and the development of data bases and supportive links between language promoters.
The program supports an active network of Indigenous language and culture centres, special projects aimed at saving endangered languages, advisory bodies on Indigenous language issues, and national projects and policy initiatives such as the National Indigenous Languages Survey.

And here's what they DON'T fund.

The program only funds activities the purpose of which is principally the revival and maintenance of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages. The program does not generally support activities that are the responsibility of other programs, Australian Government or other state or territory government departments.

So it might be hard to get funds for school bilingual education programmes out of this pool - or even second language programmes, since the state governments are responsible for education in schools. I suspect it will depend on the state DCITA offices how liberally this is interpreted. But talk to your local DCITA and Indigenous Coordination Centre staff about this - I found them exceptionally helpful.

How do you get DCITA funds?
They have an open round of funding - applications for the next round of funding open in December, and you can find the guidelines here. Here's how the applications are assessed:

"Each application will be passed by the ICC receiving officer to the DCITA regional section, which then conducts an initial assessment and obtains additional information from the applicant if necessary. Applications are then assessed by the relevant State Manager, who considers the needs of the particular state or territory.
After this assessment, National Office considers the application and makes a recommendation to the Minister for the Arts and Sport, who makes the final decision. "

No peer review. This is a problem, because there's no clear mechanism to ensure that the civil servants assessing the projects know what are sensible projects and what are sensible costings of projects. How much DOES it cost to make a picture dictionary? But the funding agreement is, let us say, um, more stringent.. If you're going to apply for a DCITA grant, make sure your employer has no problems with the funding agreement, before you put a lot of effort into applying. I'm still waiting on this one...

Over to everyone else.. Tell me I've got it wrong. Tell us there's more coordination, more informed decision-marking. Tell us there's more information, more money... and tell us the URLs!


Support for documentation of Australian indigenous languages from non-government sources shows a rather more optimistic picture, especially for funders outside Australia.
Over the past four years, the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme administered by SOAS in London has provided almost $1million in research funding supporting projects working on Australian languages, namely:

Linguistic and Ethnographic documentation of Kayardild $50,000

A first Kayardild audiovisual text corpus, with prosodic annotations $17,000

Arandic Songs project $200,000

Classical song traditions of contemporary Western Arnhem Land in their multilingual context $300,000

Dalabon Oral Histories Project $40,000

Documentation of five Paman languages of Cape York Peninsula, Australia $200,000

Documentation of Yan-Nhangu, an undescribed language of North-Eastern Arnhem Land, Northern Australia $22,000

Jawoyn Cultural Texts, Dictionary and Grammar (southern Arnhem Land) $150,000

For details of these projects see www.hrelp.org/grants

In addition to these the Volkswagen Foundation DoBeS project has funded a number of projects in Australia -- I don't have the exact figures but I believe they total over $1million as well. Other support for research work has come from various European sources. SOAS, along with various other European and US universities and research centres is actively training post-graduate students to work on Australian indigenous languages.

The irony to me is that you have to go outside Australia to get support of this kind and at this level.

Irony indeed....
Thanks for providing the funding details in such detail- let's hope it inspires people to keep asking! And maybe others to start giving? I suppose one problem is documentation vs day-to-day language maintenance activities - documentation is easy to justify as research, and thus attracts research funding. But language maintenance can't really dress itself up as research, innovation, linked to industry, essential for national security.....

Government funding is getting tighter - not just here in Australia - I was just pointed to a news story from Canada (thanks David!), which suggests that Canadian Indigenous language speakers may be encountering similar difficulties - even though they start from an impressively large funding base.

An update on the story from Nunavut:
'Aboriginal languages centre dumped from budget: Tories re-jig dormant program'
(thanks to ILAT)

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