You are you. People tell you to change so you can “walk in two worlds”. But this is a trick. There is only one world, one you. Don’t leave your culture ways at the door for study. You have the oldest, smartest culture on the planet – use it.
Do you want to get an education, but feel like it is making you lose your identity as an Indigenous person? There is a solution to this problem, but first you need to face some truths about the world around you, and who we are all forced to be in this society today.
If you can’t see this truth, then the big lies will finish you, finish us all. So who are we? We used to call ourselves “People” in our own languages. Everyone did, but no more. Aboriginal, Indigenous – these are English names, putting the European world in the centre and us on the outside.
We must be on the outside, and we must be poor and dying, because this makes the fake story of European progress look real. The story of progress says that humans and society started out hard, stupid and violent, then got better and better until it reached the highest and smartest kind of people – Europeans.
Our role as Indigenous people in this story is to be “stone age” people, to show how terrible life was before humans “grew up” into Europeans. Most people, even in our own communities, believe in this story of progress and growth. But it is a lie.
How this ‘civilisation’ really started
Civilisation started not long ago, when some people got greedy, wanting more than one place could give them. They split from their place, from land. They made cities. A city can’t live off its own land, so needs things from other places. It never stops growing and taking from other places until it dies. This is civilisation. Civilisations don’t last long, but they kill everything they can reach before they die.
Western European civilisation spread further than any other, stealing lands to take the resources, like soil, water, fuel and metals, which would eventually run out. These lands were called colonies. In its final stages, the use of fossil fuel resources like oil and coal helped western civilisation last longer than any other before it. But the biggest resource was knowledge, which they stole from all over the world to make new technology.
Knowledge stolen by colonies grew into what they called western knowledge. Today you need to know this knowledge to get work. You need work to get money. You need money just to live today. Everyone is a slave to this system.
All the knowledge in the world now can only come to you through western knowledge, like tea through a tea bag. Even your own culture is mostly known through English words and ideas coming from the colony that now sits on your land. Even your identity – who you are – comes to you through western knowledge.
They tell you who you are. They name you, name your land. Naming yourself and naming your land can give you freedom. But this is hard and dangerous when you are still being colonised, taken over. You need to learn western knowledge to protect yourself, because the colony’s job is to take whatever is left of you and your land and feed it to the civilisation until everything is gone. You need to know how to talk their talk if you want to survive this.
Everyone is a slave to western civilisation – even Asian cultures need to use western economic systems and calendar and language for business. If you are a slave who knows western knowledge and western money and western ways of living, then you can get better work and food and shelter. If you don’t know these things, you are poor or in jail.
Most of the land is owned by outsiders or emptied by them, so you can’t live from the land anymore. You need wealth and knowledge if you want your community to survive. Money is different from wealth. Money is what one person can have for one day. Wealth is what a family or community can hold forever. This is what we have lost. We have forgotten something. We know that our land was wealth, but we have forgotten that our greatest wealth has always been knowledge.
Our way of knowing
Our knowledge is different from western knowledge, because it is not stored in marks on paper or a screen – it is in story, place, relationships, images and signs. This is our way of knowing.
Civilised people have lost this. And this is what we forget now, when we try to learn western knowledge to survive, to feed and shelter and protect ourselves, or to gain the money that education brings.
We forget because we’re told that we have to leave our way of knowing behind when we come to western knowledge, that our way will stop us from learning properly. This is a lie. Indigenous knowledge is a living thing that carries the smartest ways of thinking on the planet. Using these ways, we can learn anything.
Forget about learning “two ways” or “both ways”. Stick to our way, which is the best way to concentrate, remember, think. In your education, it doesn’t matter what you learn; it’s how you learn it.
The most important thing we will need is our traditional skill of thinking, our way of knowing. If we can see clearly, and we can still think properly, then we will adapt and survive. So don’t give up your Indigenous genius – it is your wealth for the future.
Dr Tyson Yunkaporta has developed academic works on ‘8 Aboriginal Ways Of Learning‘. The NSW Department of Education initiative shows how teachers can incorporate Aboriginal perspectives by using Aboriginal learning techniques.
Cover image: Adam Ridgeway