"Plan to rescue threatened Indigenous languages applauded"

Australian Human Rights Commission – Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Tom Calma has welcomed the $9.3 million announced by federal Minister for the Environment, Heritage and the Arts, Peter Garrett and Minister for Indigenous Affairs Jenny Macklin, to help save more than 100 threatened Indigenous languages.

“Inter-cultural training is another critical element to implementing the guiding principles of the UN Declaration and provides concrete support for communities and governments developing and delivering educational programs for Indigenous people,” he said

Commissioner Calma said one way in which Indigenous languages should be preserved was through bilingual approaches in schools and he urged the Northern Territory government to reconsider its plans to dismantle bilingual education through its mandatory four hours of English policy.

“Protecting Indigenous languages is about protecting our futures, our cultures and our lives for future generations,” Commissioner Calma said. 

“I applaud Ministers Garrett and Macklin for this initiative and the clear message it sends about the need to protect this vital connection between Indigenous languages, culture and country.

“The Australian government formally endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in April this year and in doing so, agreed to Indigenous peoples having the right to establish and control our educational systems and institutions providing education in our own languages, in a manner appropriate to our cultural methods of teaching and learning,” Mr Calma said.

“The Northern Territory Government’s decision to enforce four hours of English in all Northern Territory schools is bad policy and goes against the spirit of what the Australian government agreed to in April this year when it formally endorsed the Declaration.

“The Northern Territory Government’s policy erodes the potential for the continuation of our languages and cultures.” 

Commissioner Calma said Indigenous language survival and education were especially important and have been given special consideration at this year’s UN Human Rights Council’s Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples meeting, currently underway in Geneva. Mr Calma, who is in Geneva, said the meeting was considering the challenges involved in implementing the right of Indigenous peoples to education, for which the preservation of Indigenous languages was a key priority.

Mr Calma also urged Australian government’s to take on board the Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education’s findings that Indigenous students perform better in educational environments where teachers, teaching assistants and principals have received inter-cultural training.