“Take only memories - leave nothing but footprints”
— Chief Seattle (Sealth) 1854
Western, non-Indigenous ontology and epistemologies dominate and underpin all of our knowledge, education and research processes. If we are to support Indigenous cultures in reclaiming their identity, values and traditions, the challenge is to find ways to incorporate and value their knowledges in education and career development - at all levels - by all educational institutions and organisations.
I have just returned to Australia after spending the latter half of 2015 in the United States as part of a Fulbright professional scholarship. This investigation focussed on an understanding of the core principles, values and techniques in education and career development processes that have been most successful for Native American people. I was able to make contact with tribal charter schools, universities, tribal colleges, government, the corporate sector and a range of leading Native American professional bodies.
I found that through the deeper exploration of ‘both ways’ or ‘two-ways’ learning, we can begin to better serve Indigenous people as adult learners in the western sense via the Indigenous and non-Indigenous domains that are compatible. We can do this by indigenising curriculum - finding appropriate entry points in any educational or learning experience where Indigenous knowledge or values can be shared by extension or additional perspectives. This might involve digital stories; examining and discussing cultural artifacts, field visits, stories from elders or even in approaches such as circle seating during classroom discussions.
What also emerged in this research is the need for ‘bridge people’, who can assist Indigenous people in navigating the education and career processes to achieve outcomes that align with their values and beliefs. One area where this is particularly challenging is in obtaining credit or recognition in western education programs for what we call informal learning experiences. For Indigenous people this might be volunteer work, community building, acquisition of traditional knowledge and even entrepreneurship. Some Indigenous people need the flexibility of an applied degree that leads to employment opportunities and not necessarily an academic pathway.
By examining the concept and process of circular thinking and comparing it to the linear thinking and planning that is the predominant mode of western institutions, we can see why Indigenous people find education and career in the western sense so challenging. We can also see how the philosophical approach of circular thinking can be integrated and blended to provide a more identifiable pathway for Indigenous people, and also a more enlightened and multi-dimensional learning experience for non-Indigenous people.
Circular thinking is a complex subject area and has many definitions and contexts. It is a world that moves and changes and is not reliant on facts or western science to explain how things are, will be or came to be. It is universe of flux chaos, with an orientation that examines multiple perspectives and time in the western sense is not a factor in driving one’s actions. It is a world where everything is related and connected in perpetual multi-dynamic harmony.
The circular approach to career means it is just one facet of life and it doesn’t define an Indigenous person in the same way that it can define the lives and identity of non-Indigenous people. There is a career planning context in the Indigenous sense. Elders advise young Native Americans to have a purpose; to identify their gifts and then to amplify them. This occurs via formal rituals such as ‘vision quest’ or more informally through guidance and mentoring.
Career in the Indigenous sense also means different things to men and women who have had very defined traditional roles in Native American communities. Accordingly, the careers they pursue today tend to follow those defined paths and gender expectations. Given the core value of support for community, careers in service roles such as education, health and social welfare appear to align most closely with Indigenous values.
I’m looking forward to turning these ideas into action and I welcome the opportunity to partner with educators and HR professionals who have an interest in better education and career outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
I would like to extend my thanks to the Australian American Fulbright Commission and the University at Albany for providing me with this life-changing opportunity. If you would like to know more or receive a copy of my report please contact me at:
P: + 61 438 237 011