Tag Archives: #Aboriginal

Lessons in Listening

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For the first time in its 59-year history, the Australian Science Teachers Association’s (STAWA) Secondary School of the Year award, an annual prize handed out in Western Australia, went to a school outside of Perth. That kind of anomaly deserves a second look.

The school that won the award for science research is the Christian Aboriginal Parent-directed (CAPS) school in Coolgardie, an independent school established by Aboriginal parents who felt the quality of education in their region was lacking.  This was also the first time the STAWA award went to a school with a mainly Aboriginal student population.

The students at CAPS were under the tutelage of a young science teacher from the United States, Allan Alipio, who wanted to inspire students with the passion he himself felt for science. He allows the students to come up with some of their own ideas, and this is where I think the story starts to get really interesting.

Eucalyptus saligna (Blue Gum)’ (1887)
Artist/Source: Agard Hagman/MAAS

The projects that won the award were mostly based on the application of native plants and indigenous knowledge to energy and medical experiments. One group of teens investigated the antimicrobial potential of traditional medicine plants maroon and crimson turkey bushes as well as sweet potato leaves for potential use as an anti-diarrhoea medication, while another group used local plants like wheel cactus and gum leaves to make ethanol.

This award speaks to the profound impact that good teaching can have – not just on passing along the facts and passing tests, but on inspiration and passion. I think it’s important to stress that, rather than imposing a standardized curriculum, Mr. Alipio listened to his students.

There’s a lot that could be discussed here about the all-too-common lack of education funding for indigenous populations. This gets at a larger issue of the side-lining (or worse) of indigenous populations around the world, and the extent to which their deep local knowledge has been suppressed, disdained, ignored, or (as with many medicinal applications) commercially exploited. And as we slog through this new era of climate change, that knowledge is more relevant than ever – as is the necessity to start listening.

Wheel cactus (Opuntia robusta)
Artist/Source: M.E. Eaton/Crow & Raven

People who identify as indigenous number an estimated 370 people worldwide, made up of around 5000 groups across 70 countries. They make up approximately 5% of the global population – but traditional lands and territories contain an estimated 80% of Earth’s biodiversity.

Gleb Raygorodetsky put it well in this excellent article: “With collective knowledge of the land, sky and sea, these peoples are excellent observers and interpreters of change in the environment. The ensuing community-based and collectively-held knowledge offers valuable insights, complementing scientific data with chronological and landscape-specific precision and detail that is critical for verifying climate models and evaluating climate change scenarios developed by scientists at much broader spatial and temporal scale. Moreover, indigenous knowledge provides a crucial foundation for community-based adaptation and mitigation actions…

The difference in world views can be as fundamental as the botanical illustrations of plants above done through Western eyes, the illustration of bush plants below done by Aboriginal artist Gloria Petyarre.

Bush medicine leaves
Artist: Gloria Petyarre

I will get into huge topic around the overlap of human rights issues, indigenous peoples and environment another time, but for the moment, I would say this: As long as that deep knowledge stays on a parallel but separate track from Western-based science, policy, legislation and education, we are missing out on critical opportunities to learn and adapt to the changes we have created over a relatively short period of time. At the same time, learning to listen and to cooperate puts people back in the loop when it comes to determining the fate of the land on which they live – and might just help us weather the approaching storm.

Hopefully, students like the award-winning teens at CAPS will be able to leverage knowledge from both worlds to help chart a path ahead.

A Different Hourglass

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I’ve been looking at images of Aboriginal Australian artists from Tulane University’s Newcomb Art Museum exhibition called Marking the Infinite, portraits of a sense of time and space outside our second and minute-marked world – and then I found this post in my drafts from a few weeks ago, the small echo of a sunny day.
“I went out to work in the garden for half an hour, planning to put in a row of spinach. Almost three hours later, I came back inside, unaware of how much time had passed as the warm autumn wind blew, birds called each to each, and clouds chased above.
How can time fly so unremarked?

Bush Plum (2013) Artist: Angelina Pwerle via hyperallergenic

Bush Plum (2013)
Artist: Angelina Pwerle via hyperallergenic

I cleared a small bed of rose bushes that I’ve neglected for too long, freeing them from weeds growing fat on my inattention, eager brambles that disguise their thorns among those of the roses, sly grass encroaching from the lawn.

That done, I cut back the tall perennials, neglected for weeks with a distracted gardener. It’s an exercise in immediate gratification – I can liberate the plants and myself of past laziness, with visible results. Maybe that’s why the afternoon disappeared like the space between fingers tightening together around a narrow green stalk.

How often does life offer us such easy rewards?”
Syaw (Fishnet) (2015) Artist: Regina Pilawuk Wilson via hyperallergenic

Syaw (Fishnet) (2015)
Artist: Regina Pilawuk Wilson via hyperallergenic

Well, that spinach I planted got eaten by a roaming animal who refused to be put off by various barriers until I finally gave up, but whatever is was that liked the spinach didn’t care for lettuce, so I have a small crop of late salad greens.
This week, the garden will be put to bed for the winter. The fragile trees are already under wraps, the last herbs will be harvested for drying.
As the snow blankets the small patch of green, I’ll need to remind myself regularly of the weightless time of working in the garden.

Detail: Bush Plum (2013) Artist: Angelina Pwerle via hyperallergenic

Detail: Bush Plum (2013)
Artist: Angelina Pwerle via hyperallergenic