WESTERN religion lurking in the curricula of mainstream schools is deterring Aboriginal students, says indigenous researcher Jesse J Fleay.
Based out of ECU Mt Lawley’s Kurongkurl Katitjin centre, Mr Fleay says it’s not just Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders who feel alienated by western society and decades of poor leadership in educational policy, but it can be a particular deterrent.
“It doesn’t speak to them culturally,” says the former Anglican deacon turned cosmologist.
Mr Fleay says indigenous people suffered terribly in the name of religion, particularly in the old missions.
“You became Christian or you got cast out,” he says, adding it was a form of genocide to wipe out indigenous culture.
He says his main beef is with religious thought seeping into supposedly secular public schools.
“The bleed-in [of religion] in public schools is what annoys me the most.
“I understand there’s always going to be religious schools, but the way it bleeds into the public school curriculum, it doesn’t belong.”
Mr Fleay has no issue with religion being taught in history classes as an aspect of culture and world history, but it shouldn’t be presented as fact.
He says culture in the form of folklore and stories needs to stay in education, and traditional indigenous stories are especially useful for engaging Aboriginal students.
“They might not be 100 per cent correct, we have science now to tell us a lot of things. But hearing stories about how birds got their feathers, it’s good for children’s imaginations, it’s sharing something that their ancestors would have shared with them for years.”
Mr Fleay says learning the Noongar totem system was important to his everyday life.
A man of science now, he still found it useful to “go country” at Wave Rock near Hyden and find his totem animal.
“I went out by myself for a while, and I saw a wedge-tailed eagle… it had some sort of significance to me, it was the first thing I noticed.
“The totem system in Noongar culture is really important, it gives everyone an affinity to the land and a respect for the land.”
by DAVID BELL