When you think of an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander kid, or in fact any kid, imagine what’s possible. Don’t define us through the lens of disadvantage […] Expect the best of us. – Excerpt from the Imagination Declaration, August 2019.
A group of school students from across Australia have just shown what real leadership on Indigenous issues looks like.
At last week’s national Garma Festival, 65 Indigenous and non-Indigenous students from years six to 12 came together for a Youth Forum and wrote their own follow up to 2017’s Uluru Statement from the Heart. They called it the Imagination Declaration. It’s a challenge to the prime minister and education ministers to involve young people – and Indigenous Australians in particular – in making policy about their future.
With 60,000 years of genius and imagination in our hearts and minds, we can be one of the groups of people that transform the future of life on Earth, for the good of us all.
We can design the solutions that lift islands up in the face of rising seas, we can work on creative agricultural solutions that are in sync with our natural habitat, we can re-engineer schooling, we can invent new jobs and technologies, and we can unite around kindness.
We are not the problem, we are the solution.
Young people under 25 years make up more than half of the Indigenous population, even more than the one-third proportion of non-Indigenous Australians the same age. Yet we rarely hear the perspectives of the future leaders and custodians of the oldest living culture in the world.
That was true even of last week’s Imagination Declaration, which was briefly reported by just one media outlet, NITV.
But there’s a good chance you’ll hear more about “the Imagination agenda for our classrooms” at your local school, childcare centre or university in coming months, as Indigenous mentoring organisation AIME plans to share the declaration nationally for other Australians to sign if they support the students’ goals.
The students invite the prime minister and education ministers to meet them and listen to their ideas. Cynics might dismiss that as too idealistic – but as education researchers, we’ve seen the genuine difference listening to and “expecting the best” of young people can make.
Lessons from Queensland and WA high schools
We’ve spent the past three years in six urban, regional and remote communities across Queensland and Western Australia, working with more than 100 young people in a diverse range of high schools.
One of the reasons for doing the “Our Stories, Our Way” project was that while you can find hundreds of studies about Indigenous young people – usually with a negative, “closing the gap” focus – when we searched for health or education research on identity from recent decades, we found just 14 studies that specifically included the voices of Indigenous Australians under 25.Author provided, CC BY-NC-ND
We helped create spaces where Indigenous young people had a rare chance to share their hopes with their communities, schools and each other, ranging from “I want to go to uni and study physiotherapy” to:
No matter what happens we should all be proud of whatever culture we are, no matter what culture/colour. We are all people, our skin colour shouldn’t matter
Our project focused on identity, health and well-being. Young people were given resources to make a creative piece that reflects their identities, in their words.
Some chose to create clothes and posters with art representing their stories, with messages such as “our pride, our culture” and “strive with pride”. In two urban Brisbane schools, young people wrote and recorded their own rap songs, filled with powerful lyrics such as:
Listen to the medley, black and deadly Searching for acceptance, we must be respected You can say what you want friend or foe I feel good in my skin wherever I go
In contrast with negative representations of Indigenous young people, the young people in our project spoke about their values, such as pride, respect for Elders, succeeding, family and being a collective when they explained how they express their identities.
Authors: Marnee Shay, Senior Lecturer and Senior Research Fellow, School of Education and Centre for Policy Futures, The University of Queensland