Human rights, language rights and the Northern Territory Government

Rumour has it that the Northern Territory Government is proposing to scrap the one remaining linguist position in the southern part of the Northern Territory. This position has been going since the mid 1970s, and the occupants have worked with Indigenous people and schools to create shared understandings of Indigenous languages, of the needs of school-children for understanding what happens in the classroom, of the needs of Indigenous teachers for support and training. They have produced amazing materials in Indigenous languages for classrooms, curriculum materials and reference documentation, some of which is archived and available in the Living Archive of Aboriginal Languages.

Rumour also has it that the reason for scrapping the position is because there is “no need for any linguistic expertise in Central Australia and the Barkly schools”.

But rumour doesn’t have it that the kids have all staged a revolution and started speaking Standard English.

Nor has rumour passed on in whispers evidence that their NAPLAN results have suddenly reached those of middle-class Australian non-Aboriginal children. Nor that their results will get better if their teachers know less about their languages.

And fact, not rumour, indicates that wilful blindness to children’s language needs violates the language rights of indigenous peoples – see the UN’s declaration on the rights of Indigenous people. Articles 14 and 15 are fine statements of language rights, and of the need for states to provide resources to back up the rights.

If rumour is right, then Indigenous children in the Northern Territory are losers again.

Article 15
Indigenous children have the right to all levels and forms of education of the State. All indigenous peoples also have this right and the right to establish and control their educational systems and institutions providing education in their own languages, in a manner appropriate to their cultural methods of teaching and learning.
Indigenous children living outside their communities have the right to be provided access to education in their own culture and language.
States shall take effective measures to provide appropriate resources for these purposes.


  1. Jane Simpson says:

    It now seems pretty certain that the position of Senior Language Resource Officer ( linguist position for Central Australia and the Barkly region) at the Northern Territory Department of Education has been cut. Rumour has it that this is due to reduced funding from the Federal Government for Indigenous concerns. The short-term damage is not as apparent as the damage caused by cutting funding to health and legal services, but in the long-term the effect will be be pretty dreadful for children who don’t’ come to school speaking English, and in the longer-term for the survival of their home languages.

    There’s no sign that the NT or the Federal Governments are in any way concerned about this.

  2. Margaret Carew says:

    Add to this the loss at Maningrida College which next year will no longer have a coordinator position for its language and culture program. Nor will they continue the literacy supervisor position next year. The literacy worker position has been absorbed into a general role for some time. No support now for local staff to continue a language and culture program in six languages in this multilingual school. Not so long ago there were two strong bilingual programs in Maningrida.

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