A vertically-integrated studio in communication design is partnering with Wiradjuri Nation citizens to enable non-indigenous students to develop Indigenous cultural awareness and literacies.
RMIT Lecturers Peter West and Yoko Akama are teaching a studio in the Bachelor of Design (Communication Design) in partnership with Wiradjuri Nation citizens – Mark McMillan, Faye McMillan and Wiradjuri Elder Aunty Lorraine Tye.
The studio addresses the continuing disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in higher education and considers ways for non-Indigenous people to develop an understanding of how to be in lawful relation with Indigenous peoples, nations and cultures.
The outcome is to ensure a mature understanding of a uniquely 'Australian' culture that respects the place of distinct Indigenous law and cultures.
“This recognition must be part of forming a collective understanding of what it means to 'be Australian'”, says McMillan.
Wiradjuri man McMillan said he is so thankful that RMIT’s School of Media and Communicationare offering such an important studio.
“It actually shows students - through design practice - how to be in a relationship with us and by extension, all of our mobs,” McMillan said.
“Allowing students to be actually in a dialogue and relationship with us allows (them and) us to think of the future...while simultaneously dealing with past."
Lectures and feedback by various Wiradjuri guests enabled students to understand how creative practice can help renew and maintain cultures dynamically.
Dr Akama said the studio is grounded in strong, on-going relationships between RMIT, Charles Sturt University, Melbourne University and Wiradjuri Nation members.
“It also builds on knowledge and track record generated through two successful grants Peter and I are part of that focuses on Indigenous Nation Building,”Akama said.
To assist Wiradjuri people to gather, talk, share and connect in cultural renewal and sustainability students were invited to design communication materials.
This student work has been part of Wiradjuri-led events like the Sovereign Weaving Treaty and Wiradjuri in Melbourne, and through this, the students learnt rich and complex issues that they may not have considered before in their design education.
Student Jay Larbalestier said that over the past seven weeks, he had to re-write most of his knowledge about Aboriginal people because of inadequate Indigenous education at high school so his encounters with Wiradjuri people in class were critical to construct his designs.
“I felt as an outsider that I needed to be cautious whilst designing that I didn’t insult Wiradjuri people, but over the duration of the course I’ve slowly let go of that fear.”
“I needed to be able to empathise and draw from those feelings as the only way I was able to design for this course,” Larbalestier said.
“Their values are so deeply ingrained and as a designer I learnt how important it was to bring those values to the surface and construct designs based on them to really connect to the Wiradjuri people on a whole different level.”
Story: Wendy Little
- Sovereign Weaving Treaty
- Melbourne School of Government Research Cluster Grant, Indigenous Nation Building: Theory, Practice and its emergence in Australia’s public policy discourse (2013-2016
- ARC Linkage Grant, Indigenous Nationhood in the Absence of Recognition: Self-governance Insights and Strategies from three Aboriginal Communities (2014-2017)