Yolngu Studies: A case study of Aboriginal community engagement
The Yolngu studies program at Charles Darwin University has been active in the teaching of Yolngu (East Arnhemland Aboriginal) languages and culture, in collaborative transdisciplinary research, and in community engagement for well over ten years. The original undergraduate teaching program was set up under the guidance of Yolngu elders. They instituted key principles for the tertiary level teaching of Yolngu languages and culture, which reflected protocols for knowledge production and representation derived from traditional culture. These principles ensured the continuation of an ongoing community engagement practice that enabled the flourishing of a collaborative research culture in which projects were negotiated; these projects remain faithful to both western academic standards, and ancestral Aboriginal practices. The paper gives details of the program, the underlying Aboriginal philosophy, and some of the research projects. The success of the whole program can be seen to derive from the co-constitutivity of community engagement, research and teaching. In 2005 the program won the Prime Minister's award for Australia's best tertiary teaching program.