Revitalising language, now and for the future
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 125 No 7, 2 October 2020, page no.22
At Doomadgee State School, a P-10 school in the Gulf of Carpentaria, 99 per cent of students come from an Indigenous background. In spite of this, Aboriginal language and culture had not been taught systematically at the school for many years.
According to the school’s Indigenous Education Leader Aunty Rose Foster, in recent decades some children have grown up in Doomadgee without a strong understanding of traditional culture and language. The need to restore and revitalise Ganggalida language and to pass down traditional cultural knowledge has led to several efforts to teach them at the school over the years.
Uncle Kenny Gilbert, one of the few remaining Ganggalida speakers, has worked extensively to create language resources. But taking it one step further and making language and culture part of the school curriculum has always been the goal for Aunty Rose.
In 2019, two young community members, Randell Bell and Marcus Escott, were employed by the school to teach Ganggalida language and culture to every class. Among the only ones in their generation to have an in-depth knowledge of traditional culture and songlines, they had already been part of an effort in community to promote traditional dance for kids. This has translated into strong engagement at school, where students practise dance for part of every lesson.
In 2020, I joined the team, with the aim of building on Uncle Kenny’s work and implementing a curriculum using the ACARA Framework for Aboriginal Languages. Community member Rickisha Diamond also came on board. A particular focus for me has been future-proofing the program, through recording the team’s extensive knowledge in planning documents that will provide the basis of the program for years to come. I also work closely with the team in the classroom, supporting them in developing teaching skills that will enable them to improve in their role.
Community involvement is critical in an endeavour like this, and Aunty Rose and the team regularly consult with community members about the program – they are sometimes even approached in the street with suggestions. Community support was highlighted at the school’s recent NAIDOC Day, with many community members attending and running activities for the students.
It was at the NAIDOC celebration that a new name for the language and culture program was announced: Thaldija Yardilatha, which means “Stand up Strong” in Ganggalida. The name was chosen to reflect the community’s desire for students to develop a strong cultural identity and be ready to protect and promote their culture for future generations.
Every part of the Thaldija Yardilatha curriculum is designed to be relevant to students’ lives. A particular curriculum priority is traditional bush knowledge, something that is highly relevant in a community where most people regularly spend time on country. The team has also worked with teachers to integrate traditional knowledge and language into other parts of the curriculum, and all staff members are taught basic Ganggalida words and phrases.
Snippets of Ganggalida language can now be heard around the school on a daily basis, and students use it to add detail to their writing in class. There have also been opportunities to showcase Ganggalida culture to the outside world: the school has supplied a retail outlet in Cairns with traditional artefacts made by high school students in design and technology classes, and recently a group of boys travelled to Townsville and were led by Randell in several traditional dance performances.
Thaldija Yardilatha has already contributed significantly to a resurgence of traditional language and culture in Doomadgee. Students now know which lands within Ganggalida country their families come from. Family members are learning words and phrases from students, and the whole community is taking a keen interest in the renewal of traditional knowledge; older members of community are particularly pleased to see it making a comeback.
With students and the community beginning to Thaldija Yardilatha, the future is bright for Ganggalida language and culture in Doomadgee.