Kuku Yalanji Indigenous language program
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 124 No 8, 8 November 2019, page no. 23
The QTU was proud to sponsor the Excellence in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education category in this year's Showcase Awards. Here Mossman State School, this year's state winner, shares its experiences.
Kuku Yalanji, the language of the Eastern Kuku Yalanji people (from the Mowbray River in the south to the Annan River in the north) has been sleeping in our community and is largely only spoken by our older generations, with only about 12 remaining fluent speakers, all over 60. Over 50 per cent of our students identify as Indigenous and our school sits firmly on Kuku Yalanji land, and we want our young people to be proud of their language and culture and continue to share it with their elders.
We hoped that by developing a community-lead, community-driven and community co-designed Indigenous language program, we could address many of the wrongs of the past by valuing and embedding Indigenous culture and language in our curriculum and our school and rebuild the cultural identity of our Indigenous students, families and community.
The program began with an 18-month community consultation process. Consultation forums were held in community, off school grounds – a safe space needed to be created to allow for truth telling. The community was consulted about how they felt about teaching language at school, the negatives, positives etc.
The community consultation process is the most important part of the whole process. As our principal, Randal Smith, says: “Everybody has a story to tell, everybody wants to be able to tell their story and everyone wants to have their story heard.” We need to create a safe space for that truth telling to take place and we need to listen, with all our hearts.
A language agreement was then signed to ensure that our community knew that we were serious about the project, and that it was sustainable and not dependant on the leadership team at the school (which of course will change over time). The Kuku Yalanji Language Advisory Group (KYLAG), made up of community elders and clan representatives, was developed to oversee the program at the school and in the community.
In term three 2018, development began on the first unit of work, based on the Australian Curriculum, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Framework – Language Revival Pathway. In term four 2018 we introduced the Kuku Yalanji language from prep to year two. In 2019, we have embedded the Indigenous language program into our curriculum and teach it once a week from prep to year four. KYLAG continues to meet monthly at the school, approving all units of work and resources.
We have seen increases in Indigenous student engagement, attendance and achievement and a huge increase in community engagement in our school, with Elders coming in to assist with our languages program. Ray Pierce, one of our Elders, said his spirit was lifted to see our young people learning and speaking his language, knowing it won’t die with him.
We conducted a survey of our school community and the results were overwhelmingly positive among students, parents and staff. Our favourite quote was from little Maricka in year one, who said: “I like (learning my language) because my heart feels light when I talk my language.” We think that this epitomises what this program is all about – building self-esteem and cultural identity.
Our Indigenous communities need our schools to bring their languages back, to help build the cultural identity of our children. Reviving our Indigenous languages and valuing and embedding Indigenous language and culture in our schools makes our kids, our schools and our communities stronger. Our Indigenous students have a right to learn their language and it’s our job to make sure that that happens. It is also important that we ensure that our non-Indigenous students understand, value and appreciate the importance of our Indigenous languages and culture.
We all feel very privileged and humbled to be able to work with our Indigenous community on developing the language program. We know it’s been a long time coming, but we also feel that now is the right time. Our school has been on a continuous improvement agenda for many years and our results are a testament to the incredible work of our whole school team.