The Indigenous Connected Curriculum framework aims to embed Indigenous content throughout units and courses so that students are connected with Indigenous knowledges and perspectives within the disciplines. But it’s not always obvious how those connections can be developed. Seeing what’s being done in other units is a good starting point for getting ideas.

A recent audit of Indigenous curriculum across the university revealed that students will experience some Indigenous content in 53% of courses. In this article we take a close look at a couple of the exemplar units highlighted by the audit and the approaches being taken to embed Indigenous curriculum into the student academic experience.

The audit exposed some wonderful work being undertaken in relation to embedding Indigenous curriculum across units and courses and the diverse pedagogical approaches to teaching and learning relative to Indigenous histories, cultures and identity; community and communications; and Indigenous knowledges relative to disciplines.

Dr Leanne Holt, PVC Indigenous Strategy

Read how Indigenous perspectives have been embedded in these units:

Case study 1:
Integrating Indigenous knowledge of medicinal plants into the study of medical sciences in BIOL1620

The unit BIOL1620 Foundation in Life Sciences incorporates an Aboriginal customary (traditional and contemporary) medicine laboratory and a lecture on Aboriginal knowledge systems and their value regarding healthcare and the discovery of new medicines. The focus of the content is to gain an appreciation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and practices and to examine how customarily used plants can lead to valuable biologically active extracts and compounds.  

The Unit’s Convenor, Dr Fleur Ponton, says the important message to students is that it’s not just about the chemistry of extracting the valuable molecules from the plants, it’s recognising the value of this knowledge, retaining the knowledge, being respectful to the culture, and integrating and sustaining the knowledge. 

In the practical class, students extract water-soluble components of the plant Portulaca olearacea, a succulent herb commonly referred to as purslane or pigweed. There are records of Australian Aboriginal people using Portulaca oleracea to treat scurvy and to promote general health. The plant has also been used by other Indigenous populations as a customary medicine for the treatment of pain, fever, inflammation and infections. The students do an assay to test for the antioxidant property of the plant, thereby affirming the Indigenous knowledge, and then connecting that back to the cultural knowledge.  

Students preparing the plant extract.

Students and teaching staff all participate in a yarning circle where they chat together to share their findings and connect that back to the cultural knowledge and experience. Students are given an extract of tea tree oil to smell. The Aboriginal people of Australia traditionally used tea tree oil as an antiseptic and its usage continues today. The Yarning Circle is an inclusive way of making everyone equal and feel valued.  

The Aboriginal people of Australia have traditionally used tea tree plants as an antiseptic and a herbal medicine for hundreds and perhaps thousands of years. The use of the tea tree plant has been recorded among numerous Aboriginal communities along the East coast of Australia. The development of the tea tree oil industry essentially transformed the knowledge of the medicinal use of this plant from local Aboriginal knowledge to a commercial operation. It is important for the students to appreciate and respect how Aboriginal and Indigenous knowledge has influenced our modern medicinal use of plants.

Dr Fleur Ponton, Senior Lecturer, School of Natural Sciences, Faculty of Science & Engineering)

In a survey of BIOL1620 students, almost 97% said that the Customary Medicines Lab increased their understanding of and/or interest in Aboriginal knowledge and perspectives.

See more about BIOL1620 via Open iLearn: In particular, look at Week 9.

Case study 2:
Indigenous literature provides a contemporary perspective on the oldest living culture in ENGL3020

Dr Toby Davidson, Unit Convenor of ENGL3020 Global Contemporary Literature: Australians and the World explains the approach he has taken in this unit:

When the new Curriculum was being developed, I created ENGL3020, a new unit about Australian and global contemporary literature.

I took this opportunity as an Australian literature specialist to include Indigenous writers from other countries (such as Kurdish writer Behrouz Boochani) as well as Australian Indigenous texts which had a global focus on climate change and refugee rights (Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book) and examples of trans-Indigenous writing between Australian and international authors (such as Ali Cobby Eckerman and US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo’s poem ‘Story Tree’).

The unit finishes with the multilingual 2020 film The Furnace, which investigates interactions and friendships between Aboriginal people and cameleers from the Subcontinent in 19th century Western Australia, shedding light on hidden aspects of Australian history which very few people know about to this day.

I think 21st century Indigenous texts have a dual potency in that they are written in the present, but they also challenge what the past, present and future all mean (and can mean) through their connections to the oldest living culture in the world and its wisdom, its empathy and respect for the land that we inhabit.

Dr Toby Davidson, Senior Lecturer, Literature, Dept of Media, Comm, Creative Arts, Lang and Literature, Faculty of Arts

The texts also ask readers to question how they have benefited from the legacy of British colonisation and the post-Federation policies which harmed and excluded generations of Aboriginal Australians. This can then be compared to the experience of Indigenous people in the USA or Iran, for example.

This is a third-year unit, and students are more capable of tackling more challenging texts by this point (and many have already encountered Indigenous writing in other English units), so including contemporary Indigenous texts opens them to a wider range of possibilities for future postgrad study or lifelong learning. I deliberately include genres that students might have presumed there was not much Aboriginal writing in, for example the sci-fi series Cleverman. Indigenous sci-fi and speculative fiction is a booming field globally, so I hope to expose students to a wider range of Indigenous-authored genres to show them that there are no limits to styles and genres of Indigenous literature and to open their minds to this. There is even a new vampire film by Indigenous director Warwick Thornton coming out soon – I may include this in future!

See more about ENGL3020 via Open iLearn –In particular, look at week 7 content.

Case study 3:
Exploring Indigenous perspectives in the study of the Spanish language (SLAS3020)

First year Spanish Language students expect to learn about grammar and vocabulary. But in the Spanish and Latin American Studies (SLAS) major, students also come to terms with why historical and cultural contexts are important to learning a language and to being an effective communicator, and part of this includes engaging with perspectives, voices and stories of First Nations people.

Dr Jane Hanley is the Discipline Chair, Languages and Cultures in the Faculty of Arts. Here she outlines some of themes explored throughout the SLAS major, using the unit SLAS3020 Spanish Studies 6 as an example, how these themes connect with First Nations perspectives in the Americas and how, through use of texts and discussion questions, where comparisons with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and experiences are being explored.

Bilingualism and multiculturalism – We engage with questions of bilingualism and the fact that there are Governments that operate principally in Spanish in countries where large populations of people are Spanish second language speakers or don’t speak Spanish at all. It helps students to bring that home to Australia to think about multilingualism and multiculturalism in a bit more sophisticated way as not just being about the first-generation migrants but about the histories of cultural encounters. We have examples of bilingual poetry using Spanish and one of the American languages and then students look at other bilingual poetry, including from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander poets that introduces elements of not just Indigenous languages, but also Aboriginal English dialect to reflect on the fact that a language is not a closed system.

Displacement – Histories of displacement and the ways people relate to place is something that students can connect to the Australian context. A documentary is shared about the forcible displacement of Indigenous Guatemalan people during the Civil War and the impact on their connection to their systems, their understanding of belonging and of the land. It was an example of a very racialised displacement in which people were disconnected from their ability to sustain their spiritual practices that relate to their belonging to land. We discuss how historical violence shapes people’s relationship to power and to democracy which gives the students the opportunity to bring in those comparative perspectives with Australia and inherited trauma.

Ixil women of Nebaj, Guatemala

Working with Indigenous Communities – Students are asked to draft a code of ethics for working with Guatemalan Indigenous communities that factors in questions of for example, what the Mayan belief systems are and what’s important to Mayan people. Students connect this task to the Australian context.

Diversity – Examples are provided of films and videos featuring First Nations people of the Americas representing different specific communities in which both Spanish and American Indigenous languages are used, often with Spanish subtitles, as a way of presenting the diverse experiences of Spanish speaking countries.

History shaping language – The Spanish language has words that come from American languages, and they’ve even come into English, so it makes students feel a bit of connection to the impact of colonial history, for example, in the colonisation in the Americas on not only shaping Spanish language but English language as well.

Occasionally we have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in the class. I think that’s important for people to think about too when teaching. We certainly have had students in our classes who are descended from First Nations in the Americas whose families have migrated to Australia. It’s often the students themselves who bring in the comparison with the Australian context, and we try to frame the discussion along the lines of how this can inform their perspective or their practice as a Spanish user and as a communicator in any language, whatever they do in future, even in Australia. But also, remembering that some of our students may know a bit more than we do about the Australian context and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives here so we need to open up conversations. They have perspectives to share.

Dr Jane Hanley Discipline Chair, Languages and Cultures, Faculty of Arts

See more about SLAS3020 via Open iLearn – In particular, look at weeks 1 & 2 (all the content is in Spanish but if you turn on auto translate in Google Chrome, you can get the gist of it – for those of us who are not fluent in Spanish!).

Case study 4:
PACE students work alongside First Nations people to deliver community outreach science workshops to Indigenous students in MOLS3002

MOLS3002 Engaging the Community in Science is a PACE unit in which students design and run interactive science shows and activities for Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, rural and refugee students, and the wider public. Much of this is developed and co-run with First Nations people.

For example, in 2021, the students developed a Science of Sound workshop with Uncle Brendan Kerin that connects sound to culture and technology and a Movement Science workshop that includes dance by Wiradjuri dancer Rayma Johnson and the physics behind use of a woomera for spear throwing with Uncle Paul Craft. These workshops have so far been presented to over 2000 students and are a continuing important part of our outreach.

Uncle Brendan Kerin

As part of their preparation, MOLS3002 students learn about the importance of working with people from diverse backgrounds. In one lesson they meet with staff from Walanga Muru to discuss respectful ways to work with Indigenous youth and Elders.

They have many guest lectures with Indigenous people. In a recent guest lecture by the Indigenous founders of South Coast Seaweed (a company using traditional harvesting methods to create sustainable products using seaweed) and Kelpy (using regenerative ocean farming to create a bioplastic replacement for single-use plastics) students learn about the importance of seaweed to culture, health and the environment. MQ students, in partnership with South Coast Seaweed, are supporting the revitalisation of traditional knowledge through the development of resources such as this podcast A Seaweed Story which is then available for the PACE students to use when creating activities for school students.

This PACE unit has been around for a long time. It all started when MQ scientists, including Joanne Jamie, the MOLS3002 Unit Convenor, began working together with Aboriginal Elders from the Yaegl Community and other Aboriginal peoples on bush medicine research. This led to the development of education programs for Indigenous primary/secondary students about building self-belief through the National Indigenous Science Education Program (NISEP). The PACE students continue to support this work allowing it to grow.

It is important to build mutually beneficial relationships with Elders so that the Elders continue to want to work with our students. They appreciate being involved and love sharing their knowledge providing it is done in a respectful way to make it meaningful and authentic. So much knowledge has been lost – there is a good opportunity to preserve and regenerate it. However, it is important for us to understand how they want to share their knowledge and how they want to engage with our students which is why designing teaching content collaboratively is the key.

A/Prof Joanne Jamie, Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemist, School of Natural Sciences, Faculty of Science & Engineering

LEU feedback demonstrates that students in this PACE unit love learning about Indigenous culture. “I learnt so much about Indigenous culture, how to be a leader in meaningful and respectful ways, and work alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.” “I can’t speak more highly of this unit. This has been such an immensely important unit to me this year. It has assisted a lot of personal and academic growth as well as helped me develop a deep appreciation for Indigenous Australians.” “Through the activities, I got to learn more about myself as well as Indigenous communities in Australia.”

See more about MOLS3002 via Open iLearn – In particular, look at Weeks 2, 4 & 10

Coming up with a meaningful connection with your discipline/unit content

You might feel that in your unit there is no obvious way to link content to Indigenous perspectives. Here are a few ideas:

  • Science & medicine – Discover the molecules found in plants that Aboriginals use, their medicinal and other chemical properties and connect that back to their customary use
  • Physics – Examine Aboriginal tools and the physics behind the design and operation of the tool e.g. the force required to throw a spear over a considerable distance
  • Astronomy – Connect to Aboriginal star maps for navigation and stories
  • Engineering – connection with Aboriginal practices in tool making
  • Human movement – An example could be to study the unique and specific arm movement required to throw a woomera
  • Hearing & how sound works – Consider the importance of sound and vibrations to Aboriginal culture and stories about this
  • Climate – seasonal calendars
  • Arts – creativity of Indigenous culture, music, art, languages and stories
  • Geography, agriculture and environmental sciences – Connect to Aboriginal land and farm management practices, sustainability and climate aspects
  • You would think mathematics would be difficult but the Aboriginal & Torres Straight Mathematics Alliance was formed to connect mathematics to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures and they have resources and ideas

Thanks to Joanne Jamie for thinking outside the box and coming up with many of the above suggestions.

Ways of including Indigenous content in your teaching

Embedding Indigenous understanding can be a difficult task and sometimes it’s just difficult to fit it into an already full curriculum. Start with little examples and build from there:

  • Start your lecture with an Acknowledgement of Country or include the Welcome to Country video on your iLearn site. Explain the importance of the Acknowledgement of Country
  • Ask students to identify the Aboriginal country where they are located (via chat if online). Include a link to the AIATS Interactive Map of Aboriginal Australia so they can identify the traditional custodians of the land they are on
  • Incorporate comparative studies on Australian and international Indigenous peoples, cultures and identities
  • See if you can find links with the research that you do – actively keep aware of any Indigenous research or initiatives in your field. There are very few fields or disciplines now which do not have Indigenous researchers or practitioners conducting either individual or group research
  • Include Indigenous led discourse through guest lecturers
  • Seek out and include Indigenous authored publications as readings relevant for your topic
  • Have discussions on racism and media representations
  • Have a Yarning Circle (and explain its relevance) for an inclusive discussion where everyone is equal and feels valued
  • Develop partnerships with Indigenous experts within specific fields to support accurate lived understandings being presented to students.

Have conversations with the people who can help you

Start a conversation with others and see what they are doing, it may give you some ideas on how to make the connections.

I would also recommend having a chat with Joe Perry, the Director for Learning and Teaching responsible for the implementation of the Mudang Dali Indigenous Connected Curriculum from Walanga Muru. He can offer some pointers for not just what you’re teaching, but how you’re teaching it, and whether you want to consider bringing in Indigenous guest lecturers for example – something I also hope to do for future iterations of ENGL3020.

Toby Davidson, Senior Lecturer, Literature, Dept of Media, Comm, Creative Arts, Lang and Literature, Faculty of Arts

Contacts:

  • Joe Perry, Academic Director, Indigenous Learning and Teaching, Indigenous Strategy: joe.perry@mq.edu.au
  • Leanne Holt – PVC Indigenous Strategy: leanne.holt@mq.edu.au
  • Department of Indigenous Studies
Image from Indigenous Connected Curriculum framework

Links and resources:

Indigenous Connected Curriculum framework – read the framework

Inclusivity and the significance of Indigenous Knowledges for students (TECHE article)

Walking Darug Country app – a self-guided walking trail identifying the cultural landmarks and areas of cultural significance to Aboriginal peoples that are scattered throughout MQ

Hold our Tongues: Interactive Map of Language Revival – A website hosted by ABC Radio with interactive maps where you can find ‘Darug’ in the Sydney region. Click on it for clips of Darug being spoken and sung

Resources for embedding Indigenous perspectives in your unit (TECHE article & resources on iLearn)

Reconciliation week – 31 May 12-2pm Lakeside Lawn, Macquarie University


Acknowledgements:
Thanks to the following people for their input, ideas, tips and expertise:
Fleur Ponton, Joanne Jamie, Joe Perry, Toby Davidson, Jane Hanley, Leanne Holt.

Images:
Banner image: Artist: Simon Tjakamara (image provided by Joe Perry)
BIOL1620 images supplied by Fleur Ponton
Ixil women of Nebja – WikiMedia Commons
Uncle Brendan Kerin: Image supplied by Joanne Jamie & used with permission from Joe Perry
Tea tree oil, spears and rock art images from Shutterstock

Posted by Kylie Coaldrake

Learning and Teaching Development Coordinator Office of PVC (Learning and Teaching)

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