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7 Dec 2023

Embracing the Journey: Insights from the Reconciliation and Education: Past-Present-Future Forum

Aunty Geraldine Atkinson, Professor Leanne Holt, Associate Professor Joe Sambono, Aunty Professor Tracey Bunda and Professor Melitta Hogarth contributing to the PAST panel conversation. Image credit: Tom Hoy, Wirrim Media

On Friday 24 November, Reconciliation Australia’s Narragunnawali, and the University of Melbourne’s Ngarrngga Project teams co-hosted the Reconciliation and Education: Past-Present-Future Forum.

Bringing together education sector leaders from across the continent, the forum explored how the past informs and inspires our current and future efforts in reconciliation and education. The discussions highlighted the significant role all Australians must play in both understanding and improving these realms.

The session reflecting on the past honoured the legacies of inspiring First Nations leaders in education. Aunty Professor Tracey Bunda recognised them as ‘the ancestors of Aboriginal education’, whose work should continue to inform and inspire today’s reconciliation in education efforts. Aunty Geraldine Atkinson highlighted improved outcomes for First Nations children who saw themselves reflected in the curriculum and had early educational engagement. Professor Leanne Holt emphasised the value of revisiting and revitalising Aboriginal education policies and her belief in the power of culturally responsive education.

In addressing the present, the focus was on current structural, policy, and resource challenges and the imperative of transforming them into opportunities for progress. The importance of narrative in shaping these policies was underscored by Max Lenoy, who reminded attendees, ‘We are part of policy; our practice today is part of policy.’ The session also encouraged educators to move beyond fear and advocate for a curious, brave and evolving approach to knowing and doing better.

Looking towards the future, the discussions emphasised the need for substantial and sustained action. Professor Marcia Langton AO's proposition, ‘This is a 50-year project, and we must be successful this time around’, highlighted the long-term commitment required for meaningful progress. The session also highlighted the importance of political, media and cultural literacy in Australian society.

Dyonne Anderson highlighted the importance of those working within the education system to hold themselves accountable for embedding First Nations perspectives into the curriculum. Hayley McQuire and Shannan Dodson emphasised the need for placed-based solutions and a future that focuses on healing.

The discussions made clear that progress in reconciliation and education requires the combined efforts of all individuals and communities involved. A report of the forum findings and recommendations will be produced in early 2024.

The forum ended with a thought-provoking question for all participants: ‘Remembering that every present is a former future, what future are you honouring today?’ This question invites us to continually reflect on the impact of our actions today on tomorrow's world.

Dyonne Anderson, Professor Tom Calma and Karen Mundine contributing to the FUTURE panel conversation.

 Image credit: Tom Hoy, Wirrim Media

Thank you to all who contributed to the Reconciliation and Education: Past-Present-Future Forum, co-hosted by Reconciliation Australia’s Narragunnawali: Reconciliation in Education and the University of Melbourne’s Ngarrngga Project.

Special thanks to:

MC: Sharon Davis, Board Member, Reconciliation Australia

PAST panellists:

  • Aunty Geraldine Atkinson, President, Victorian Aboriginal Education Association Incorporated (VAEAI)
  • Aunty Professor Tracey Bunda, Professor, Indigenous Education, University of Queensland   
  • Professor Leanne Holt, Deputy Vice-Chancellor Indigenous, University of New South Wales 
  • Associate Professor Joe Sambono, Lead Curriculum Writer for the Ngarrngga Project (University of Melbourne) & Program Lead (Embedding Indigenous Australian Perspectives), Queensland University of Technology, and fellow Narragunnawali Awards judge.

Discussant: Professor Melitta Hogarth (Project Director of Ngarrngga and Professor in Indigenous Education, University of Melbourne)

PRESENT panellists:

  • Max Lenoy, Curriculum Specialist, ACARA (The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority)
  • Danny Pinchas, General Manager - Teaching and School Leadership, at AITSL (Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership)
  • Cameron Power, Chief Financial Officer and General Manager, Corporate Services, ESA (Education Services Australia)
  • Rhonda Livingstone, National Education Leader, ACECQA (The Australian Children's Education and Care Quality Authority)
  • Sally Cooper, Principal Advisor First Nations, AERO (Australian Education Research Organisation)

Discussant: Professor Larissa McLean Davies (Deputy Dean, Faculty of Education, The University of Melbourne)

FUTURE panellists:

  • Professor Marcia Langton AO, Associate Provost, University of Melbourne
  • Professor Tom Calma AO, Co-Chair, Reconciliation Australia
  • Dyonne Anderson, CEO, Stronger Smarter Institute
  • Shannan Dodson, CEO, Healing Foundation
  • Ms Hayley McQuire, CEO National Indigenous Youth Education Coalition

Discussant: Karen Mundine, CEO, Reconciliation Australia