'I think we're on a road to change'
NAIDOC celebrations had an encore at USQ last month, with the inaugural NAIDOC Ball.
The theme, as during NAIDOC Week, was "Because of Her, We Can".
Seniors Newspaper caught up with one of the speakers, Professor Tracey Bunda, head of USQ's College for Indigenous Studies, Education and Research, to find out how indigenous experiences had changed over the past 30 years of her involvement in higher education.
A Ngugi/Wakka Wakka woman, Tracey said there was undoubtedly still stereotyping and lack of understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues within the community.
But she said NAIDOC Week, which began as just a day of celebration back in the 1930s, was continuing to grow in depth and provide a vehicle for education and understanding between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and non-indigenous people.
"I think we're on a road to change, but with every process there are roadblocks ... There needs to be a real commitment to change - a genuine dissatisfaction in the way things are," Tracey said.
Greater understanding would come through increased engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and she urged Seniors to take advantage of opportunities to become involved in cultural activities and events.
"The only thing we're limited by is our ability to think creatively about how we can make these engagements happen," Tracey said.
"People need to be willing to listen to what the indigenous voice is saying, even if it's different, or the reverse of what you think you know or understand.
"It's important to have a greatness of spirit ... to think about where you are, think about your community, your sphere of influence and 'ask are indigenous people involved?' And if not, what can be done to make that happen."
Tracey's passion for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander progress in higher education began 30 years ago at the Gippsland Institute of Victoria's Koori Program.
She said the number of indigenous students involved in university studies at all levels from diplomas to undergraduate degrees, masters and doctorates had never been greater than it presently is.
"But what becomes critical is being able to keep those students at university to complete their degrees," she said.
"Often our students - including the many mature age students - are first in family, so that means those students are pioneering something no other family member has done before, so that sets up a whole range of challenges for them to progress through."
Among hurdles to be overcome is the presumption that every student will have access to computers or the internet, with many coming from highly disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds, which also affects their ability to relocate to attend tertiary education.
"Having said that, for those students who do engage and can successfully complete their education, it does change the trajectory; it does make an impact on the next generation, and that's got to be a good thing," Tracey said.
"That's why I'm so invested in education: to help make that change."
She is proud of the students who initiated the inaugural NAIDOC Ball, and keen to support it becoming a part of annual NAIDOC Week celebrations in July.