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Today's Honours list [.pdf] gives Indigenous Australians something to celebrate - Mick Dodson as Australian of the Year and the award of a Companion of the Order of Australia to Faith Bandler.

And for Indigenous languages, there are two awards of Members in the General Division of the Order of Australia to celebrate:
1. the late Dr R. Marika, "For service to Indigenous communities in rural and remote areas as an educator, linguist and scholar, through the preservation of Indigenous languages and the promotion of reconciliation and cross-cultural understanding"

2. the Reverend Dr Bill Edwards, who has worked for over 50 years with Pitjantjatjara people, learning the language, helping with documentation, with schooling, who pioneered the teaching of Indigenous languages at university, and who still helps out as an interpreter in hospitals and gaols.

Both awards come in the shadow of a government decision which goes against what both Bill and Dr Marika have fought for. Bill has protested about the NT Government's decision to close bilingual education in a letter to the Australian.

Dr Marika died before the decision was made. But in her 1998 Wentworth Lecture [.rtf], we can see what she would have said about the destruction of her hopes for two-way education.

... Language profiling entails teachers preparing a profile on each child and assessing each child’s reading, writing, speaking and listening skills. Unfortunately, these profiles have been developed for children who speak English as a first language. For English we can use the English-as-a-second-language profile, but the bicultural nature of our school program is not acknowledged. The national benchmarking process also wants to know the answer to the question: do Yirrkala children achieve the same learning outcomes at the same time as any other child in Australia? There is no consideration given to the fact that our children are learning in and through two languages, and learning about two knowledge systems or traditions.
.....
In conclusion I would like to ask this question. Is the government fair dinkum about bilingual education? We believe that our children have a right to know and understand their own cultural beliefs within the model bilingual program. Learning literacy in the children’s first language takes precedence in the first primary schooling years from Transition to Level 3. The focus of the English learning during this period is very much an oral one, helping the children to become a confident speaker of English before they have to grapple with English literacy and concepts. Once children have mastered literacy skills in their first language they can then transfer them to English literacy.

The task ahead is to convince the Department of Education and the Commonwealth government that Yolngu assessment and evaluation methods can and should be developed. These methods will have to involve our elders and our languages and our knowledge systems. Bilingual schools in the Northern Territory are not adequately resourced, when you consider the enormous task ahead of us. We are not opposed to profiling or to the national benchmarking process. It is just that the current evaluation systems do not take into account Yolngu curriculum which is taught in our schools and other Indigenous systems. The current system does not take into account our Yolngu garma curriculum or Yolngu ‘both ways’ pedagogy and curriculum.

Our job as educators is to convince the people who control mainstream education that we wish to be included. Until this happens, reconciliation is an empty word and an intellectual terra nullius. Thank you very much.

Raymattja Marika, Wentworth Lecture 1998
AIATSIS Library, S06.1/AIAS/10 1999 no1, p.3-9

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