The potential benefits to the Australian Defence Force educational curricula of the inclusion of Indigenous knowledge systems

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    In colonised countries such as Australia and New Zealand, Indigenous peoples are working hard to reclaim their systems of knowledge and have them recognised and included in every aspect of contemporary society. The centralisation of Indigenous Knowledge in military curricula can play a fundamental role in contributing to broader educational and societal change. In the context of a Western military establishment, the relationships that exist between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are crucial in order to understand the complexities involved when and embedding Indigenous Knowledge systems in educational practice. As the military is the largest government institution in both Australia and New Zealand, the need to better understand these relationships is important. Moreover, the interests of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) and the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) are similar in that both groups have previously identified the need to maintain strong relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities. However, the interests and experiences of each group in this study differed markedly, as each country has different socio-political goals and experiences related to colonisation. In the case of the NZDF, the centralisation of Indigenous Knowledge in military curricula has taken considerable time and has not occurred without many challenges. Despite the difficulties and differences, various lessons and benefits can be shared with the ADF, as signposts of exploring how and to what extent Indigenous Knowledge is acknowledged and valued within military educational practice should the ADF choose a similar path.

    This study demonstrates that while there are diverging and differing interests, the underlying issues that affect Indigenous and non-Indigenous relationships and the centralisation of Indigenous Knowledge systems in the ADF and NZDF, irrespective of their differing locations, are complex. This thesis explores some of the complexities in order to understand the benefits. A qualitative research approach using interviews, focus groups, observations and surveys with ADF, NZDF and remote Indigenous community members in the Northern Territory was utilised to provide a rich, triangulated picture of some of the challenging and rewarding aspects. This study demonstrates that embedding Indigenous Knowledge in ADF educational curricula can contribute significantly to an overall improvement in members’ military learning experience, and an enriched organisational culture.

    ADF and community members identified a range of benefits that would result from centralising Indigenous Knowledge systems in military education. While many of the benefits identified by ADF and community members aligned, such as the perceived improvement in respect and understanding, the experiences of NZDF participants either confirmed or exceeded ADF and community views. This was evident in the sense of a shared NZDF military identity, heightened morale and institutional pride. Impacting significantly on ADF and community relationships, however, were the differing perceptions and expectations in relation to ‘Reconciliation.’ This included the differing values and perspectives related to Indigenous Knowledge systems held by each group that were heavily influenced by ruling relations, personnel attitudes, and societal norms. Issues of cultural and epistemological dominance and lack of understanding about the value of Indigenous worldviews were not uncommon amongst the experiences of ADF personnel. Moreover, the broader political goals of ‘respect, relationships and opportunities’ when applied to the context of Indigenous Knowledge education were found to hold little relevance with regard to ADF education. Findings suggest that while there was majority support for embedding Indigenous Knowledge within the ADF, much more needs to be achieved in order to align organisational values and community goals. Based on the findings, some possible suggestions have been made. Firstly, ‘respect’ for Indigenous Knowledge systems was considered vital for improving relationships between non-Indigenous and Indigenous personnel, and their communities. Secondly, understanding the effects of cultural dominance and ‘ruling relations’ in the context of a Western military establishment is imperative if successful ‘relationships’ are to be established; and finally, ‘opportunities’ for Indigenous Knowledge education are critical if equitable relationships are to be achieved. This study suggests that positive relationships can be promoted at the individual, instructional, and organisational levels, by adopting a proactive approach to military education, and implementing further research using a participatory action framework.

    Note: "The work in this thesis was undertaken between the dates of December 2012 to December 2014 and in no way reflects the advancements that have been made by various elements of the Australian Defence Force and the cultural diversity initiatives, which have been embedded within the last 18 months." -- Declaration page.
    Date of AwardJan 2016
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorSteven Larkin (Supervisor), Greg Williams (Supervisor) & David Bennett (Supervisor)

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