Aboriginal researcher fights for indigenous languages, looks to Maori

Professor Jakelin Troy of the University of Sydney, Australia, said said she is fighting for aboriginal languages to be ...
DONNA-LEE BIDDLE/FAIRFAX NZ.

Professor Jakelin Troy of the University of Sydney, Australia, said said she is fighting for aboriginal languages to be accepted in Australia.

An Aboriginal professor says they look to Maori for leadership about how to preserve their indigenous languages.

The situation over the Tasman is dire - their languages are disappearing, Director of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander research at the University of Sydney, Professor Jakelin Troy.

"In Australia our languages are going to sleep," she said.

"Out of at least 250 languages that we had in Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander languages, currently there are only 13 that are spoken right through."

Troy, who is from the Ngarigu people of the Snowy Mountains, said she looks to New Zealand's native people, Maori, for leadership.

"I made a lot of reference to what Maori people have done. Not only to get language going again, but to enshrine it in legislation," said Troy.

"Even Te Tiriti o Waitangi, there's nothing like that in Australia.

"So the government pays lip services to our languages at best and at worst, it completely ignores our languages. We're all one big homogenous group of Aboriginal people, without separate identities and separate languages and you know, it's nonsense."

Language is developed to give people a way of expressing themselves, said Troy, and she believes they have much to learn, including national and local governments, from what's happening in New Zealand.

"It's not the number of languages that's the issue, it's the attitudes," she said.

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"Canada have similar statistics to Australia in terms of the number of native people and amount of languages. They have the same criticisms."

Troy is doing research for the national languages curriculum to get schools speaking Australian languages.

The curriculum will be published by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority and available as an online resource to primary and high schools that wish to teach an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language.

"We're going to give children across Australia the chance to systematically learn our languages," she said.

"There have been local programmes but nothing national like this.

"In Australia we're trying to move towards a way of integrating our national curriculum as opposed to integrating our Aboriginal and Torres Island perspectives across the whole curriculum."

Troy said she believes the introduction of a national curriculum will change the psyche of Australian people.

"Some years ago I looked at Kotahitanga schools, which is about giving children from a Maori family the opportunity to be Maori at school. Like learning Maori for non-Maori children has made them feel part of the country," she said.

"The problem we have in Australia is, as an Aboriginal kid, you more or less need to leave your Aboriginality at the gate when you got to school.

"And that was the issue here in New Zealand. We certainly look to you here for guidance all the time."

Troy said they do not have any schools similar to kura kaupapa Maori (full immersion Maori language schools) but the curriculum is a step forward.

"As an aboriginal person it absolutely grieves me that I cannot speak my own language," she said.

"When I first said something at a conference in my own language, I broke down in tears in front of 400 people or more and there was this flooding wave of emotion. And I think it is absolutely core to who you are, to speak in your own language.

"You've got the Rugby Cup, so the least you can do is help us with our language and our language rights."

 - Stuff

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