Nganki - ka Kardu thipmam - wa! I Murrinh warda ngatha. The nganthin ngumpanngerren. I ku ngakumarl, da ngarra ngugumingki wurran. The da matha nganthin ngala i da bere matha wangu ngumamath ngumpan ngarra magulkul nganki.

We are black people. We speak our language. We have our totems and Dreamings. This is what we know and will hold always in our hearts.

It is who we are.

Deminhimpuk Francella Bunduck, Murrinhpatha teacher, OLSH Thamurrurr College, Wadeye, ACARA consultation forum, Darwin, July 2013

The overall rationale for learning Aboriginal languages and Torres Strait Islander languages in Australian schools is that they are the original languages of this country. Through learning them, all students gain access to knowledge and understanding of Australia that can only come from an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander perspective. The languages by their nature embed this perspective. Learning to use these unique languages can play an important part in the development of a strong sense of identity, pride and self-esteem for all Australian students.

Each Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language is unique to the Country/Place on which it arose. It gives voice to the landscapes, thoughts and ways of seeing and interpreting the world. When the language of the land is spoken, it brings together all of the elements of the landscape and its people. It encompasses the relationships of these people with one another and with the landscape, past, present and future. The learning of an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language incorporates the realities of its people and facilitates students’ deep engagement with knowledge, ways of being and ways of knowing. It develops in students an understanding of historical, current and ongoing connection to Country/Place and culture.

Aboriginal languages and Torres Strait Islander languages are fundamental to the identity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and this is recognised throughout the Framework. It is also the right of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to have access to education in and about their own languages, as enshrined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (resolution 61/295, adopted 13 September 2007, www.un.org/esa/socdev/unpfii/documents/DRIPS_en.pdf). Education systems can play a vital role in facilitating access to language learning and supporting community language revival and maintenance.

To me, teaching Kaurna means sinking my toes into this sacred soil and embracing who I am. It means being so proud of my language and culture that I want to share it with whoever wants to listen, learn and be a part of my journey.

Ngathaitya, ngathu Kaurna Warra nguthu-atpama, ngai tidna kuinyunta yartangka ngatpanthi. Naku'athu, yailty'athu ngana ngai tiyati. Ngai kararrinthi ngaityu warraku, ngaityu tapa purrunaku kuma. Ngai padlurninthi ngaityu warra pirrki-apititya ngapidluku, ngana padlurninthi yuringkarnititya, tirkatitya, kumangka ngathaityangka padnititya.

Taylor Power, Kaurna language teacher, Gilles Street Primary School, with Kaurna translation assistance from Rob Amery, Head of Linguistics, University of Adelaide

Learning Aboriginal languages and Torres Strait Islander languages meets the needs and rights of young people to learn their own languages and recognises the significance of these languages in the language ecology of Australia. For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, learning their own language is crucial to their overall learning and achievements. It enables them to develop a wider recognition and understanding of their language, culture, Country and Place, land, water, sea and sky, and this contributes to their wellbeing. For all students, learning Aboriginal languages and Torres Strait Islander languages provides a distinctive means of understanding the Country/Place in which they live, including the relationship between land, the environment and people. The ongoing and necessary revival, maintenance and development of these languages also contribute to reconciliation.

Language is my connection to my Ancestral Dreaming and country. Teaching Gumbaynggirr in schools benefits the whole community. It breaks down barriers, leads to a better understanding of Aboriginal people, and brings Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people together. This kind of sharing is our cultural way.

Michael Jarrett, Gumbaynggirr language learner, teacher, and active language user

Aboriginal languages and Torres Strait Islander languages are complex and diverse. Engaging with the study of an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander language will develop communication skills in the language studied and will also contribute to the intellectual enrichment of students. For non-Indigenous students, the study of an Aboriginal language or Torres Strait Islander language will provide intellectual challenge and development while also giving them insight into and understanding of Indigenous Australian cultures and knowledge. In some cases it will provide these students with the opportunity to communicate with Indigenous Australians in their own language. In other cases, in addition to communication skills, it will give insight into language change and language revival within its historical context.

The government report ‘Our Land Our Languages: Language Learning in Indigenous Communities’ (House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Commonwealth of Australia, September 2012), found that there is an ongoing and close relationship between the work of communities to maintain and revive their languages and that of schools as vehicles for language instruction. The study ‘Indigenous Languages Programs in Australian Schools: A Way Forward’ (Purdie et al., 2008,) found that over 16 000 Indigenous students and 13 000 non-Indigenous students located in 260 Australian schools were involved in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages programs.

The opportunity to learn an Aboriginal language and/or a Torres Strait Islander language is becoming available in an increasing number of Australian schools, and an aim of this Framework is to make that option available for all students. In this way, all students will have the opportunity to benefit from the social and intellectual development that results from this learning.

Students at our school see the inclusion of a Kaurna language program as an empowering and authenticating approach to Reconciliation. Aboriginal learners of Kaurna develop pride in their culture and gain deeper insights into their own being by learning how to speak Kaurna and think in Kaurna. They greatly appreciate the effort undertaken by the whole school community to integrate into the curriculum and school ethos the language and culture of the land on which they live and learn. By the same token, our school community regards it as a privilege to be able to engage with Kaurna traditions. Our Welcomes to Country were originally performed by just the Aboriginal Year 12s, but now our Year 9s are rising to the challenge and to be able to do so with the blessing of their Elders is a real boost to their sense of self, cultural pride and identity.

Rob Shepherd, Principal, Le Fevre High School