The dominant discourse of Indigenous education in Australia has constructed an Indigenous subject that is passive, lacking and in need of assistance. Federal, State and Territory Governments have targeted countless reports, policies and programs at what they believe to be the overwhelming underperformance of Indigenous students. Yet despite these reports, policies and programs, fundamental inequalities remain and Indigenous students continue to be observed, discussed and marginalised. In this sense, Indigenous education is always education for or about Indigenous people. This thesis presents the view that despite a shift away from a cultural deficit view of Indigenous students in the 1980s, a pedagogical deficit view has been maintained, which perpetuates the discourse of passivity, failure and neediness.
After examining the literature on Indigenous pedagogies over the past three decades in light of critiques of their underlying assumptions, this thesis will propose a decolonising turn and consider alternative conceptions of Indigenous pedagogies as education through, or based on, Indigenous philosophies and methodologies. This approach is premised on the recognition of Indigenous intellectual sovereignty by way of respectful dialogue, willingness to learn and non-appropriative negotiations of meaning. By rupturing the familiar racialised discourse and reinserting Indigenous sovereignty into the local educational context, a whole new field of post-colonial possibilities opens up that recognises Indigenous people’s agency and intellectual sovereignty.
Drawing on recent developments in North America and Aotearoa, this thesis suggests that the recognition of and engagement with Indigenous philosophies through locally negotiated pedagogies provides an opening for re-energising the educational experience for Indigenous and otherlearners, transforming the education system through innovative approaches as well as contributing to decolonisation in Australia today. It is argued that this engagement must be inextricably linked to a human rights-based approach to education which supports agency, respects autonomy and creates shared spaces. Bringing into play recent developments in Indigenist research methodologies, the thesis is an explicit reflection of the author’s situatedness as a recent migrant in relation to Indigenous peoples, settler/invader descendants and other migrants in contemporary Australia. Seen in this light, the thesis is a story about creating homes, extending relatedness and sharing responsibility.