With over 500 Indigenous nations in Australia, and around 50,000 years of history, there is a lot to be learnt about Australia's First Nations Peoples.
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In Indigenous Studies: Australia and New Zealand, Professor Maggie Walter from University of Tasmania, shares a little bit about the history of her people. As tomorrow is the United Nations International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, we thought it was a good opportunity to chat to Maggie about the course that she presents with Massey University's Huia Tomlins-Jahnke.
What is the name of your people, and which nation do they come from? Where is that nation located?
I am a descendant of the trawlwoolway people of the north east nation in Tasmania. The nation takes up the north east corner of Tasmania and is distinguished by wonderful white beaches, open wooded country and plentiful plant and animal resource around which our traditional people’s lifestyles were based. Not many of us live in the area these days – it is a relatively sparsely populated part of Tasmania, but if you travel there you can see the signs of our people’s occupation everywhere – in the midden lines in the sands and the shells along the beaches.
You don’t have to be Aboriginal to understand our connection to country or to feel the continued presence of our ancestors in this place.
What made you decide to teach this free online course?
It was suggested to me by the Deputy Vice Chancellor Students and Learning here at the University of Tasmania, Professor David Sadler after he me with his counterpart from Massey University in Aotearoa New Zealand. I then spoke with my co-presenter Huia Jahnke and we saw the possibilities of a collaborative course. We saw that the course could demonstrate to our prospective students the similarity and the differences in the history, culture, especially that before colonisation as well as the similarity and differences in our histories of colonisation and contemporary circumstances of our respective peoples.
We also knew, that in both Australia and Aotearoa, what little most students are taught of what is misguidedly referred to as prehistory and also colonial history and its aftermath, is written by non-Indigenous authors and scholars. And while the work of many of these scholars is valuable, we knew as an Aboriginal and Maori scholar, our perspectives, approaches and foci would be very different.
We wanted to open up for our students this alternative way of understanding our peoples and our histories.
Is there anything interesting you’d like to share about your experience preparing for or recording this course?
Well I certainly learnt a lot about Maori history and people. I had previously done quite a bit of reading on Maori history and the work of Maori sociologists (my field). But listening to Huia opened this right up for me. I just did not know many of the things she talked about and the way that she wove a coherent narrative, I think was a wonderful gift.
Also, Huia and I found out that through the similarities in our colonising stories, we are actually probably related. The son of an Aboriginal woman, bul-rer, who came from the same small north east clan as my matriarch, Woretemoeteyenner, by the sealer who abducted her, had travelled to Aotearoa in the 19th Century and married into Huia’s family. I have since met more of my Maori relatives.
Why do you think it’s important to have an understanding of the indigenous peoples of a land?
The story of Indigenous people is the story of the land. Trying to understand who you are as an Australian, New Zealander or other occupant of a nation state with a distinct Indigenous population without knowing who the Indigenous people of that land are, what is their history as the first nations of that country and the non-idealised story of colonisation and its ongoing legacy’s is not possible in my view. You are only seeing a tiny part of your nation’s story. And while most of those from these countries are the descendants of settlers, not indigenous people, there should be no fear of knowing First Nation’s Stories.
Our nation state’s Indigenous heritage, culture and unique connection to place is something we can all be proud of.
What’s the one thing that you would like students to take away from Indigenous Studies: Australia and New Zealand?
To look at the stories of our nations, and our nations peoples, from alternative perspectives. It’s not a one-or-the-other thing, our nations are made up of many stories. It’s not about relativity either, there are alternative stories out there, that are not currently part of the dominant discourse, that need to be.
Who should enrol in this course?
Anybody who would like to know more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and/or Maori peoples and those who want to go beyond the standard understandings.
What are some ways that people can begin to learn about the indigenous peoples from their part of the world?
Look for websites on indigenous groups, the groups won’t all be singing from the one song book. You will find that you’ll get a very different understanding from looking at the world through those eyes.
There’s some good material out there, but my advice would always be to go and look at it from indigenous eyes.
Maggie Walter is a trawlwoolway woman of the pymmerrairrener nation of north east Tasmania and a senior lecturer with the School of Sociology at the University of Tasmania, Australia. She is one of the two presenters of Indigenous Studies: Australia and New Zealand for Open2Study.