Australian Indigenous language funding

Two Ministers responsible for different aspects of Indigenous Affairs in Australia, Jenny Macklin and Peter Garrett, have jointly announced $9.3 million of funding for Indigenous languages. The grand aim is to “to help take 113 indigenous languages off the critically endangered list.”
Some good stuff:

“A focused and coordinated national approach is critical to safeguard indigenous culture and save these unique languages.”
Communities will be encouraged to use endangered languages as much as possible and all efforts will be made to pass them on.
… The policy will also encourage the teaching of indigenous languages in schools”

Some bad stuff:

“although it is understood not to alter the course in the Northern Territory, where bilingual education is set to be scrapped in 2010.” (out of date… in several schools, energetic principals and superintendants have already enthusiastically closed down bilingual programs).

Garrett and Macklin will have an uphill battle – they probably don’t know that heaps of teachers, principals and education bureaucrats out there are saying that everyone (parents, Indigenous teachers..) should talk English to Indigenous kids so that the kids learn English and get good scores on the NAPLAN tests.
Garrett and Macklin also perhaps don’t realise that if they get rid of bilingual education (Indigenous-language-as-medium-of instruction), there’s only one thing left for Indigenous languages in schools in Australia at the moment. “Language-other-than-English” (LOTE) is used as a cover-term BOTH for programs for children who don’t speak their traditional language and for programs for children who DO speak a traditional language.
Unfortunately, LOTE program mostly mean flash cards of words for body-parts and animals, and a few songs like ‘head and shoulders, knees and toes’. Not how we’d expect to develop an English-speaking child’s English. There’s no half-way house. There’re no programs I’ve heard of recently in Australia which systematically develop the child’s first language, taking them through learning more sophisticated vocabulary, more sophisticated sentence structures, and finally adult genres.
Devising such programs requires a lot of research and testing and teamwork from Indigenous teachers, language teaching specialists and linguists. It all takes time.
It’s all too hard …. So, what if you think your Minister won’t buy the line that singing a couple of songs is a good structured ‘language & culture’ program? Well, language is part of culture, right? So – easy! get rid of the ‘language’ and call them ‘culture programs’. Then, if kids just draw boomerangs for a couple of hours a week, or read in English about boomerangs, you’ve done your culture program, right?
If Garrett and Macklin really want to save those languages, they and their departments have some serious thinking to do.

9 thoughts on “Australian Indigenous language funding”

  1. Would it also be true to say that $9.3 million, while certainly better than nothing, is still rather paltry compared to NZ spending on Maori language stuff?

  2. By the way, my understanding is that the $9.3 million funding is not new funding but it refers to the existing Maintenance of Indigenous Languages and Records program funding.

  3. The publicity for Indigenous languages is a fine thing. But I’m not sure that this is ‘new’ money. It’s a suprisingly similar amount to what MILR deals out each year anyway. More bang for their buck.

  4. And notice that in the last MILR round, IAD Language Centre got zero. This means that apart from some publication money for IAD Press, and a small amount for a Warlpiri project, there is no liferaft for languages being floated anywhere near Central Australia.

  5. And without sounding too gloomy about this funding which is fundamentally a good thing for Australian languages…
    If 113 languages are being supported, what about the 150 or so languages that aren’t being ‘saved’ with this funding??

  6. I am a manager of one of the 65 Language Centres funded in Australia and one of the fortunate 3 year funded centres, I would like to also comment here.
    What I would like to say is that this money has been allocated to us for the last 5 or so years with minimal cpi increases each year, the $ news is old news, the media stories have actually been pretty inaccurate in some of its facts.
    Whilst I also appreciate a lot of what has been said above, and Jane you are right on everything you have said, but what I think that people are missing is that main point of all of this announcement is the proposal for a National Language Policy. This is huge, if we all get together and help get this policy right we can actually start to correct the wrongs at government and administration levels.
    Policy I would hope could open up proper funds than the small change which is currently given out. Policy can help bring all departments in line and contributing equally in sync with another(wow, did I just say that).
    A National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islanders Language Policy could now be possible, I was not involved in languages way back then, but has this not been on the agenda of our people and associates for the last 25 or so years, from the first language meetings held in Alice Springs, I actually have those Newsletters, Vol 1, 2 etc dated 1985 I think.
    It will take a while and it will be up to us to stand our ground but I cant wait to start waving a National Language Policy around and throwing it on some desks.
    You can give her a caning on how she has handled a lot of Indigenous issues, but it was Jenny Macklin that met with us and has pushed this through to this stage, this is further than anyone else has done before.

  7. Bilingual programmes are being starved of oxygen. In our school in Arnhemland we are not allowed to attend meetings with other bilingual schools.Our programme is ignored, Indigenous staff are not consulted and changes are pushed through as management know opposition has been neutralised- I’m waiting for them to start burning books,it’s really soul destroying. People watch as their programme of 30 years is dismantled. These bureaucrats seem to have no ethics or regard for human rights. I’m still hopeful that this attitude may change in the future, as the public values Indigenous languages and cultures and this will pressure politicians to support bilingual education. Will Peter Garret get real and give ongoing support for language centres where bilingual programmes have been removed?

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