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Education the key to living in two worlds

By Sara Hudson - posted Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Key to the maintenance of a cultural or ethnic identity is the passing on of cultural knowledge and fostering a positive self image among the next generation. Unfortunately the negative effects of racism can leave victims feeling defeated with little sense of self-worth.

Writing about Indigenous Affairs is sometimes like trying to balance on a double edged sword. On the one hand you want to highlight the serious problems and disadvantages that some Aboriginal people face. But on the other hand, in doing so, you risk feeding popular stereotypes that all Aboriginal people live dysfunctional life's in alcohol fuelled, violent communities.

Focusing only on those Aboriginal people living in remote communities' neglects the majority - some 60% of Aboriginal people who live in cities and towns in Australia and whose lives are similar to most other Australians.


Negative stereotypes of Aboriginal people also help foster the belief that they are a problem that needs to be fixed rather than recognising them or their culture as an asset.

Many Aboriginal people have internalised these negative perceptions of what it means to be Aboriginal and believe that successful, hardworking and Aboriginal are mutually exclusive terms. Some even accuse Aboriginal people who have achieved success in mainstream society of being 'too flash'.

A common misconception is that as Aboriginal people become more educated and 'westernised,' all that will remain of their Aboriginality is their family tree. The underlying assumption behind this is that the only 'real' Aborigine is the darker, remote Aborigine living 'out bush.'

However, being well educated needn't equate with the loss of a person's cultural identity. Indeed, it is unlikely that Aboriginal university graduates somehow feel less 'Aboriginal' after graduating.

There are many Indigenous Australians who are living in two worlds - who have achieved educational and employment success and retained a strong connection with their family, community, language and culture.

At the same time, as Young Australian of the Year Tania Major pointed out in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald too many young Indigenous people do not have a sense of their own identity or place, they don't know who they are or where they belong or their own language. Conversely many remote Indigenous Australians may speak their traditional language but can't speak standard Australian English.


In writing about his people, Aboriginal leader, Noel Pearson has said that Aborigines can learn from Jews how to preserve culture and prosper.

The Jewish story highlights that with education, it is possible to have the best of both worlds.

The Jewish faith has always had a heavy emphasis on education. Not only is secular education deemed important, but even the least observant Jews ensure their children learn some Hebrew and study for their bar and bat mitzvahs. For those who don't attend a Jewish day school, there is Sunday school and after school Hebrew classes. The Board of Jewish Education also employs teachers to teach Hebrew and Jewish religion in public schools where there are a number of Jewish children. Alongside educational institutions, Jewish youth and sporting groups help foster a strong and positive Jewish identity.

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About the Author

Sara Hudson is the Manager of the Indigenous Research Program at the Centre for Independent Studies and author of Awakening the 'Sleeping Giant': the hidden potential of Indigenous businesses.

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