The 2014 World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education (WIPC:E) was held on the campus of Kapiʻolani Community College on the island of Oʻahu in Hawaiʻi from May 19 – 24, 2014. WIPC:E is the largest venue for Indigenous education in the world and since its inception has attracted highly regarded experts in the field. WIPC:E is held every three years and is generally attended by 3,000 Indigenous peoples from around the world. This year Australia was well represented many of its universities and by Catholic Education Offices. Australian youth were also well represented – students from Wesley School in Perth WA were a favourite with the other nations.
ACU Indigenous staff from across three states (Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria) presented and participated in the conference and the journey was physically, emotionally and spiritually rewarding.
The conference theme, “E Mau Ana Ka Moʻolelo: Our Narratives Endure”, was an edict to us that we commit to perpetuating our cultures through the transmission of our rituals and the stories that come from our breath. WIPC:E invoked the stories of our ancestors to guide, commit, challenge, and incite us, share breath, share stories and share wisdom to solidify cultural legacies in spite of great challenges.
Decolonisation was a prominent theme in the conference sessions. There was an examination of how communities are reclaiming their languages and cultural practices and instilling in the next generation a sense of identity and belonging.
Rebecca Tamaariki, Kate Wragge and Krishna Heffernan had the opportunity to present to delegates the journey that the staff, students and Indigenous community had undertaken over an 18 month period in visioning and constructing the Weemala cultural garden. The journey to see the garden become a reality started with consulting internally and externally with key stakeholders. Elders in the Indigenous community were consulted, as were various Indigenous organisations on the north side of Brisbane. The Weemala team engaged with the ACU architects and the landscape gardeners to bring together ideas and possibilities in shaping the garden.
The final design incorporates cultural knowledge, including a place for dance and ceremony, a yarning circle so that stories can be shared and a garden that reflects the Indigenous plants from the area. The project highlights how a garden can spur perseverance and collective impetus in a community and become a vehicle for community engagement. A cultural garden can draw a wide variety of disconnected groups together for a common cause. Weemala are now communicating with Portland, Oregon as they have also established a cultural garden and presented at WIPC:E as well.
The other ACU presentations were on the Sydney Teacher Education Away-From-Base Program and the Midwifery Program. All presentations were well received. The staff members from Yalbalinga, Weemala and Jim-baar-yer are very grateful for the support given by ACU to attend such a wonderful conference. Enhanced self-confidence and growth in Indigenous learning and professional development are just three of the positive outcomes. The ACU Indigenous teams have a renewed commitment and enthusiasm for Indigenous education at both the university level and within their local communities.