Advancing Australia Fair's Aboriginal 'problem': Developing responsibility for centralized assimilationist educational decisions

Date of Completion

January 2009


Anthropology, Cultural




Australian governments have historically promoted educating variously defined indigenous ‘Others’ to adopt mainstream lifeways. However, responsibilities for realizing homogenous imaginaries were devolved to under-supported local leaders; locally various implementations of educational practices exacerbated ‘problematic’ indigenous differences.^ Debates over how to ‘educate’ indigenous peoples have intensified as a large number of Aboriginal people have migrated to urban centers in the past decade. Urban school principals have therefore been increasingly faced with a dilemma: following governmental guidelines mandating that schools treat Aboriginal pupils the same as all other students and strategizing to not only keep Aboriginal students in school, but to implement initiatives that attempt to make Aboriginalities relevant to all students.^ Throughout three fieldwork trips (2005-2008), I conducted research at a multicultural urban school outside the Northern Territory's capital in examining how teachers, principals, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students and families variously resisted, embraced and transformed school practices that were redefined during a threefold turnover in differently positioned principals. Diverse reactions to shifting school administrations and practices demonstrates the inefficacy of centralized governance and the impossibility of homogeneity. In analyzing and contrasting narratives highlighting the demand that Aboriginal people emerge from the ‘Aboriginal problem’ category to join an imagined homogenous modernity with: indigenous and non-indigenous pupils' and families' experiences with public educational institutions; and school and community members' narratives of either including or excluding Aboriginal students' experiences and histories in educative endeavors, my work sheds light on patterns of exclusion currently shaping multiple representations of Aboriginalities and Australian citizenries. I argue that structural negotiations of educational policies, centralized support of localized policy implementations, and consultation with a diversity of school and community constituents would create more inclusive Australian identities and educational experiences by recognizing and respecting intercultural interactions between and amongst diverse indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.^