Meet RMIT’s Indigenous Studies team and learn how you can enhance your degree with Indigenous Specialisation electives.
RMIT's Indigenous Specialisation is a suite of Indigenous Studies electives designed to give students an understanding of the cultural, historical and contemporary frameworks that have shaped the lives of Indigenous peoples in Australia and globally.
The electives offer a rich, dynamic learning experience taught by leading Indigenous and non-Indigenous academics with expertise across a range of fields.
We chat with Indigenous women Emily Poelina-Hunter, Dr Suzi Hutchings and Julia Hurst about their careers and how their research interests enrich the courses they teach in the Indigenous Specialisation.
Tell us about yourself and the areas you teach.
Poelina-Hunter: I am an Aboriginal Nyikina woman from Western Australia. I teach Indigenous Studies, Indigenous Policy, and Landscapes of Places, Landscapes of the Mind.
Hutchings: I am a Central Arrernte woman. My mother’s family are from Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. I teach Researching De-colonisation: Indigenous Land Rights to Hip Hop, and Indigenous Dislocation and Diaspora.
Hurst: I’m an Aboriginal woman, daughter, mother, twin, Victoria, New South Wales, ACT, silent histories, places in-between, academic, storyteller, re-imagining, digital history, emotional history, playwright, author, inquisitive, listening, learning, PhD candidate, teacher.
What projects and research are you currently working on?
Poelina-Hunter: My current research is very self-reflexive and focuses on my lived experience as an Aboriginal academic.
I am investigating cultural safety, which means critically analysing policies and initiatives (such as Reconciliation Action Plans) that intend to provide environments that respect, support, and grow Indigenous academic capacity in Australian universities.
Hutchings: As a social anthropologist with a PhD from the University of Adelaide, my research interests are in the areas of Native Title, Aboriginal heritage and land rights, Aboriginal youth and criminal justice, and the exploration of Indigenous identities through music (particularly hip hop).
My current research project is on the social meanings of hip hop among urban Indigenous youth and young people living in Melbourne and Adelaide. I am also involved in community radio. For more than six years, I have produced the radio program, Crossing Tacks, for Radio Adelaide 101.5FM.
Hurst: My research crosses many boundaries and has a foundation in social research and Indigenous developments and histories. I enjoy creating, producing and telling stories via theatre, creative writing and oral and digital history research methodologies.
I am in the final stages of completing my PhD, which merges digital and Aboriginal history methodologies and research, and am working collaboratively with Aboriginal people in Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains.
How does your research influence or contribute to your teaching?
Poelina-Hunter: I teach Indigenous Policy to undergraduate and postgraduate students – working with a new generation of potential policymakers is inspiring. The policy students are overwhelmingly non-Indigenous, and their willingness to learn about the historical and contemporary realities Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples face is fantastic.
Students often express that they rarely have Indigenous lecturers to get experiential insights from, and this fuels my desire to research why Indigenous academics make up such a tiny percentage of university teaching staff.
This year I plan to get the students critiquing RMIT’s Indigenous policies and initiatives to make the content of the course relevant to both my lived campus experience and their own.
Hutchings: My research interests are embedded in all the courses I have taught throughout my academic career.
This year I am incorporating elements of my research on Indigenous decolonisation theory, hip hop and Indigenous identities, and my knowledge and expertise in the fields of Native Title and Aboriginal heritage in the courses I teach.
Hurst: The oral histories and contemporary life experiences of the Aboriginal people I have worked with in Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains while undertaking my PhD directly inform the teaching and learning exchange for students taking the new Mythbusting Reality: Indigenous v Western course.
The course moves across diverse themes such as environmentalism, spirituality and philosophy, Indigenous knowledge traditions and knowledge transfer, Aboriginal history and Western knowledge systems.
Tell us about a career highlight or special project you're proud to have been part of?
Poelina-Hunter: My highlight would have to be my involvement with the Nyikina–English dictionary. While my father is Australian Aboriginal, my mother is New Zealand European. I grew up in New Zealand for 20 years, and therefore did not get to engage often with my Aboriginal culture.
Living, researching and working in the Kimberley in 2007 was a really important time of my life for re-engaging in my Nyikina culture. I researched Nyikina Dreaming, and oral and written story transmission, and worked on the Nyikina–English dictionary with Elders who had incredible cultural knowledge.
Hutchings: One of my most recent career highlights is being the recipient of an Endeavour Award for Indigenous Australians in 2013, whisch allowed me to spend six months sponsored by New York University (NYU) to study contemporary hip hop among disadvantaged youth in New York City.
My work in Native Title has also had its rewards. The Esperance Nyungar people in Western Australia received their native title rights in 2014. I was the senior anthropologist on this claim and it was wonderful to have helped in the eventual success of this claim for the Esperance Nyungar people.
Hurst: I will always remember the opportunity given to me as a young person to be involved in the writing of Urgent (Random House), a novel written for young people to help facilitate access to Australia’s Aboriginal history.
The opportunity Urgent has given me has allowed me to access history and emotion that drives many of my current and future projects.
How can Indigenous Studies broaden career opportunities?
Poelina-Hunter: Indigenous studies will give you cultural awareness of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history and contemporary perspectives on important issues such as constitutional recognition, treaty movements, racism, Indigenous rights, the Closing the Gap initiative and the continued intervention in the Northern Territory.
It will make you a more competitive applicant for jobs because you are knowledgeable about the complexities of living in neo-colonial Australia.
Hurst: You will be open to new ways of learning and understanding. You will hone your critical research skills, which may help you find a job.
You will also learn to listen deeply, sit uncomfortably, acknowledge diversity and have knowledge of Aboriginal history and culture, both historical and newly made, which will allow you to make decisions, to be informed, to engage and to act upon your knowledge within Australia’s social and political landscape.
How can Indigenous studies complement my degree?
Hutchings: Understanding the diversity of Indigenous cultures across Australia and overseas will broaden your understanding of the impact of colonisation on Indigenous peoples and minority peoples.
It will assist you in the workplace when you come into contact with Indigenous peoples and their cultures in everyday practice.
Hurst: Indigenous Studies at RMIT will help you to become informed about Australia’s past, and you might not think it, but your knowledge will help to shape Australia’s engagement with Aboriginal people into the future.
Be a world citizen. Choose knowledge, choose not to be ignorant.
How do I apply?
The great thing is that you don’t need to apply, you can just enrol in courses through enrolment online. The Indigenous Specialisation courses are open to all RMIT undergraduate and postgraduate students.
You can complete as few or many electives as you like. Undergraduate students who complete four Indigenous Specialisation electives receive a formal acknowledgement on their academic transcript.
Story: Jaclyn Lombardo