Close the Gap: UniSC graduate explores First Nations truth in book | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Close the Gap: UniSC graduate explores First Nations truth in book

Ahead of tomorrow’s Close the Gap Day (21 March), UniSC PhD graduate Dr Hope O’Chin explores First Nations truth in her recently launched book.

In Epistemology of Belongingness: Dreaming A First Nation's Ontology of Hope, the renowned First Nations elder, educator and artist examines Australia's First Nations truth, voice, recognition, diversity and respect.

Dr O’Chin urges a shift towards frameworks that centre on the relevance of Indigenous knowledge systems, philosophies, histories and cultures and ways of being, knowing, thinking and doing.

It goes to the heart of Close the Gap Day - to close the health and life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians, within a generation.

Her book launch was hosted by UniSC’s Indigenous and Transcultural Research Centre led by Professor Maria Raciti and Professor Catherine Manathunga, as well as Pro-Vice Chancellor of Aboriginal Strategy, Professor Joe Fraser, and the Department of Indigenous Services.

Dr O’Chin is a Kabi-Kabi, Wakka-Wakka, Koa, Gugu-Yalanji Elder, educator, and artist, and graduated from UniSC with a Doctor of Philosophy in 2021.

Dr Hope O'Chin, third from left, at her UniSC graduation in 2021

Excerpt from Chapter 9 Reclaiming Our Belongingness: ‘Our Australia’ 

Section From Reconciliation to Conciliation

Predictions for future relationships of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people’s sense of place in contemporary Australian society are determined by a range of variables which depend on prevailing attitudes, legislation, and policy.

Those variables allow access and participation for and by Aboriginal people. If Indigenous Australians continue to be marginalised, their hopes and aspirations for Australia's future could be lost in their inability to successfully access and participate in civil society.

In other words, the pendulum has swung, the clock is ticking, and a united voice in an Australian identity constitutes what we should have as national icons, emblems, and symbols of significance and what it means to be uniquely Australian. Affirmative action as described in this chapter is a key to this.

What do Australians hope for the future? What are our aspirations and our vision for an Australian identity? I believe we should aim for a future where Indigenous people are included in the identity of Australian civil society.

It may be that Australia's First Nations' philosophy of Dreaming can be seen to offer a new modernity that has evolved out of traditional practices of recording oral history through art and Aboriginal cultural methodologies of teaching and learning.

This Dreaming, in art and educational practice, offers a concept of Aboriginality embedded in a philosophical epistemology of Belongingness. Indigenous trade, language, stories, and song lines in art and education, in spirituality, and in relationships to one another and their environment are embedded in this continent and offer a rich foundation for all people who have chosen to make Australia their home.

In this way, the nation can acknowledge, respect, and support a reconciliation of worldviews. This would not fracture existing identities. Diverse cultures have already been acknowledged, accepted, and respected and woven into the fabric of our national identity.

The essence of that diversity has been incorporated into those elements that make Australian people proud in being Australian and provides for all within a vision of Australian identity.

For thousands of years, Indigenous Peoples have invested themselves in this continent, and their vision was understood through their relationship to each other, their communities, their lands, and their home in 'Our Australia'.

An Aboriginal pedagogy is not only about imparting knowledge and skills but also about ways of Knowing and being, both spiritual and practical.

For authentic change to happen, the process, timing, and leadership around the introduction of an Australian First Nations' 'Ontology of Dreaming Hope' become fundamentally a reality in the development of an epistemology of Belongingness through a pedagogy of Aboriginality.

Australia's Constitution should have a legal clause of Recognition that perhaps could be drafted as follows.

For over 65,000 years or more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (Indigenous) people were Australia's First Nations, the first Australians who occupied and lived on this continent now known as Australia. Perhaps all Australians should have been given the opportunity to vote Yes or No to the above statement in this Australian Referendum on 14/10/2023.

For, Australia's First Nations people were Australia's first people/living humans on this land called Australia and this important fact should be recognised legally in Australia's Constitution.

It could be said that the 2023 Referendum was hoodwinked by the media and political persuasion, and/or indecision before and after the Referendum, rather than Australian voters being informed on what it means for all Australians to vote yes and subsequent consequences for the no vote.

Therefore, it could be supposed that the most contributing factor to the Referendum's outcome of the No vote at the polls was run by media and politically conscious persuasion. It could also be said that unless there is legal recognition of the Australian First Nations within Australia's Constitution, First Nations people will continue to be excluded, within all aspects of Australian society.

It could be believed that this referendum No vote was won by the popularity ratings of politicians and the accompanying television debate of screening the Yes or No Referendum debate, which leading up to 2023 Referendum Polling Day would influence significantly a majority Australian population's vote outcome on what is viewed as a contentious issue that only represents approximately of a marginal 1 per cent of Australia's voting.

Dr Hope O'Chin, second from left, at the book launch on campus at UniSC

About the book 

The intent of this book focuses on Australia’s First Nations truth, voice, recognition, diversity, and respect. Hope O’Chin explains that knowledge about Australian First Nations culture and learning can be seen through new conceptual lens, which she refers to as an Ontology of Dreaming Hope for Australians. The book proposes to move from ontological propositions embedded in pedagogies and methodologies that center on the relevance of Indigenous epistemes and ways of doing. O’Chin offers a conceptual framing for engaging with Indigenous peoples, and forming communities of belongingness and relationality. She offers suggestions for ways in which art and education can act as ‘healing’ and a way forward towards a more inclusive civil society. Reflexive practice, ethnographic principles, and action research is described in a way that methodologies provide an understanding of a sense of Belonging. O'Chin argues that theoretical research, art, and educational practice can add to the value of determining a strategy of Indigenous art investment within Australia, and to address how art and education can be used to validate contemporary expression of Aboriginality within contemporary Australian society. Ultimately, the book is about Indigenous strengths and what Indigenous ways of being, knowing and doing can offer, and how one might go about honouring and working in this way respectfully.

Link to book here 

Link to Dr O'Chin's graduation story

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