University celebrates 25 years of Indigenous education

Professor Lester-Irabinna Rigney

Professor Lester-Irabinna Rigney
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Wednesday, 28 March 2012

The University of Adelaide will celebrate 25 years of Aboriginal education this Friday 30 March with a ceremony to mark the calibre of Indigenous graduates and the impact they are having on society.

Since the appointment of the University's first Aboriginal Liaison Officer in 1987 to recruit more Indigenous students to tertiary study, a number of milestones have been achieved.

These include Indigenous anthropology student Rebecca Richards making history in 2010 as Australia's first Aboriginal Rhodes Scholar in its 108-year history, and the University's acknowledgment of the Kaurna people as original inhabitants of its land.

Other notable Indigenous alumni include:

  • Associate Professor Irene Watson, the University's first Indigenous postgraduate student who was awarded the Bonython Law School Prize for her PhD in 2000;
  • Yvonne Clark, the first Aboriginal student to be awarded a Master's degree in Psychology in 1997;
  • Sonny Flynn, the first University of Adelaide Indigenous undergraduate student who completed his BArts (Honours) in 1986;
  • Dylan Coleman, PhD Creative Writing graduate who in 2011 won the $20,000 Arts Queensland David Unaipon Award for an unpublished Indigenous writer

The establishment of a dedicated centre for Aboriginal education, Wilto Yerlo, in 1996, the signing of the Reconciliation Statement in 2003 and the launching of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) Employment Strategy in 2006 all stand as historic markers for the University.

Professor Lester-Irabinna Rigney, the Dean of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education: Wilto Yerlo, says great strides have been made in Indigenous education at the University of Adelaide in the past 25 years.

"The University has been proactive in encouraging more Aboriginal people to study and work at the University of Adelaide and has actively promoted an understanding of Indigenous issues, culture and history in its programs and courses," Professor Rigney says.

The creation of many different scholarships available to Indigenous students has provided much needed financial support, coupled with guidance and mentoring from Wilto Yerlo.

Professor Rigney says the strengthening of relationships with the University of Adelaide began 40 years ago with the establishment of the Centre for Aboriginal Studies in Music (CASM).

"This is the only university program of its kind in Australia which continues to deliver training for ATSI people in Indigenous music and performance," he says.

In 2000, the Yaitya Purruna Indigenous Health Unit was established in the Medical School, supporting Indigenous students studying any of the Health Sciences programs, as well as the integration of Aboriginal culture into the medical curriculum.

More recently, an Indigenous Oral Health Unit was created at the University of Adelaide, focused specifically on the oral health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

"The success of our Indigenous graduates has benefited not only their local communities but the whole of society because many of these people will become leaders in the field," Professor Rigney says.


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