Settled Reconciliation: how celebrating reconciliation can silence diversity, the contemporary, and racism

Wednesday, 3 July 2019
Talia Avrahamzon
Ginibi Robinson

Since Australia’s formal reconciliation process began thirty years ago, the education system was viewed as having a critical role in un-silencing Australia’s past and increasing awareness of diverse Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives on social, cultural and historical matters. The very term ‘reconciliation’ is promoted in national and jurisdictional education policies, strategies, curriculum documents and professional teaching standards. Although efforts have been ongoing, there has been little long-term ethnographic research on understanding how reconciliation is experienced and engaged with by all children, teachers and schools in the everyday. 

This presentation draws on doctoral research undertaken during the 2016 school year in two primary schools on Ngunnawal Country, in the ACT jurisdiction of education and explores how schools engage in reconciliation. The study reveals that despite educators’ strong commitment to ‘reconciliation’, in the main schools reproduced forms of ‘colonial storytelling’ (Behrendt 2016) about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures and perpetuated the structures of the ‘silent apartheid’ (Rose 2007). In some cases, this led to the creation of ‘settled reconciliation’, in which good intent and celebrations of perceived Indigenous culture(s) silence diverse Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ experiences and agency, and ignores ongoing settler colonialism, racism and whiteness. The research and policy implications this raises for reconciliation as a transformative process will also be discussed.