Indigenous Law Bulletin
By Anita Anderson.
This article seeks to address the issue of cultural awareness in law schools. My proposal involves the mainstream program of law, which currently provides for Indigenous subjects to be undertaken, but only on an elective basis. Students are able to ‘pick and choose’ whether they want to learn about Indigenous issues. I believe that, given the appalling rate of over-representation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system, law schools should make it a priority to incorporate Indigenous subjects – or at least a cultural awareness subject – into the mainstream curriculum of law programs across Australia.
Law students, at some point in their respective careers, will encounter a matter that involves an Indigenous client or witness. Students should therefore be required to undertake subjects that will equip them with the knowledge necessary to maintain the best interests of those clients. Implementing Indigenous-based subjects into the core curriculum of the law program has the potential to work positive and lasting affects across the entire spectrum.
Indigenous education would offer students, as potential lawyers or professional public service agents, a real account of Australia’s true history. It is crucial for students – Indigenous and non-Indigenous – to appreciate and comprehend the repercussions of historical disempowerment, dispossession and de-humanising treatment, which have left an indelible stain on the lives of Indigenous people. It would also enable recognition of cultural protocols and principles for better communication.
Law Schools would benefit from the knowledge that they are making a difference, that their students are learning an important part of Australia’s history. Law firms and other organisations would benefit from the knowledge that their employees have been trained appropriately and understand what to expect when dealing with Indigenous clients. This would also encourage deeper thought and consideration of alternative perspectives and realities.Courts would benefit because better cultural awareness would avoid wasted time and resources; this would be more cost effective and valuable for all parties involved.
Australia, as a whole, would benefit! The National Apology delivered by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd highlights that Australia has a lot to gain from reconciliation. Reconciliation is about building better relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. It is about reducing the ‘gap’ of ignorance. The Apology told of the truths, hurt and sufferings of Indigenous Australians. It spoke of the good and the bad. There is now nothing keeping the truth hidden behind closed doors. Here and now is the time to encourage and promote the move of reconciliation, building on all the hard work that has been done in the past.
This issue is critical to all facets of Indigenous legal and social concerns: health, education, policing and corrections. Incorporating Indigenous issues into mainstream legal education needs economic support and proper funding. Elective Indigenous subjects make some difference; making them part of the core curriculum would make a lot of difference.
A lot has been said; not much has been done. This proposal is a practical solution to ‘closing the gap’; it would help in breaking barriers arising from pure ignorance. Implementing Indigenous subjects into the mainstream law program across Australia would be a significant step in advancing Australia Fair. It would help Australians, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, develop mutual respect and understanding for each other. As an Indigenous student, I look forward to bigger and better opportunities for my Indigenous brothers and sisters and an equitable future with my fellow Australians.
Anita Anderson (Wymarra) is a Gudang woman from Cape York. She is entering her final year of a Bachelor of Laws and Criminology & Criminal Justice at Griffith University, Brisbane.