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2008 World Indigenous Peoples Conference focuses on education

MELBOURNE, Australia – Preparations are under way for the World Indigenous Peoples Conference: Education (WIPC:E), to be held on the traditional lands of the Kulin Nation in Melbourne Dec. 7 – 11. The conference is a triennial event attracting people from around the world to celebrate and share cultural diversity, traditions and knowledge with a strong focus on world indigenous education.

This year’s conference is expected to bring more than 3,000 people from countries such as the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Taiwan, Norway, Bangladesh, Botswana, Vanuatu and many others.

WIPC:E provides delegates a forum to come together, share, learn and promote indigenous education policies, programs and practices. Mark Rose, chairman of the conference’s Knowledge Committee, said, “Delegates represent unique communities with their own cultural traditions and differing stories of colonization. But what always strikes me are the overwhelming similarities. We all strive for indigenous self-determination. We all want our indigenous languages recognized and preserved for generations to come. We all live with competing knowledge systems and want our children and our children’s children to achieve academically while remaining strong in their culture. WIPC:E provides a forum where indigenous issues are at the forefront, where indigenous people can drive the agenda.”

The Victorian Aboriginal Education Association is hosting this year’s event, the theme of which is “Indigenous Education in the 21st Century – Respecting Tradition, Shaping the Future.” According to Rose, this is the first year the conference has been hosted by a community-run indigenous organization.

The first day of the conference will begin with an opening ceremony and a traditional welcome by elders of the Kulin Nation and members of the WIPC:E team on behalf of the indigenous peoples of Australia. After the welcome ceremony, indigenous groups and individual delegates will have an opportunity to respond through speech, dance, song or other form of cultural expression. A number of performances by local indigenous musicians will also be part of the opening and closing ceremonies.

WIPC:E has the potential to positively impact the educational outcomes and lives of indigenous peoples across the globe. “Participants can share their experiences of what has and what hasn’t worked in their own communities,” Rose said. “They can learn from each other and discuss how to adapt differing educational models for their own community needs.

“We hope WIPC:E delegates return home with new ideas, new strength and new inspiration. We hear so often about ‘indigenous disadvantage’; WIPC:E is a chance to celebrate indigenous achievement on a global scale.”

Three sub-themes will be explored during the five-day event: “Respecting Tradition,” “Living with Competing Knowledge Systems” and “Beyond the Horizon.” Respecting Tradition will visit issues such as “growing, connecting, celebrating and maintaining traditions through education,” “building history,” “pathways to knowledge” and “language and identity.”

Living with Knowledge Systems will be the second day’s focus and will look at topics such as “defining education,” “the impact of culture and education,” “understanding the present culture of educational institutions” and “exploring knowledge systems.”

Day four will see delegates focusing Beyond the Horizon – building on the themes of WIPC:E 2005. These will include “shaping our own futures,” “thriving in the education system,” “engaging community” and “resilience.”

The closing ceremony will feature a huge concert at Rod Laver Arena, home of the Australian Open Tennis championships. There will be performances by international delegates and some of Australia’s indigenous performing stars. There will also be a handover ceremony, during which One Fire Dance Troupe will hand the honor of hosting WIPC:E to the next nation.

International keynote speakers will include Marie Battiste, a Mi’kmaq educator from Canada. The 2008 recipient of the National Aboriginal Achievement Award, she is the director of the Aboriginal Education Research Centre at the University of Saskatchewan and co-director of the Aboriginal Learning Knowledge Centre, a national project of the Canadian Council on Learning. She is also a technical expert to the United Nations, Auditor General of Canada, and an executive member of Canadian Commission for UNESCO.

Professor Octaviana Valenzuela Trujillo, from the United States, is also a keynote speaker. She was elected the first vice chairwoman of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe of Arizona. She then became the chairwoman, and during her years on the tribal council established the first Department of Education and played an important role in state and national legislation.

International keynote speaker professor Graham Hingangaroa Smith from New Zealand is a well-known Maori educationalist. He was the first teacher of a Kura Kaupapa Maori school, which has grown to more than 80 publicly funded schools.

Australian indigenous speakers include professor emeritus Colin Bourke, an adjunct professor and council member at Monash University and WIPC:E 2008 patron; Lester Coyne, representing the Federation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Languages; Aboriginal Corporation for Languages board member Bruce Pascoe; and Alf Bamblett, an elder and leader within the Victorian Aboriginal community who has been instrumental in shaping many Victorian Aboriginal community organizations.

With the meeting taking place in one of Australia’s largest cities, delegates will have the chance to explore unique bush landscapes during a day of site visits to rural cultural centers, including a volcanic lava flow that houses relics of ancient indigenous farming methods. Delegates will have a chance to network at night with the local aboriginal community and are encouraged to participate in the Parade of Nations during the closing ceremony.

A related seminar being held the day before WIPC:E on Dec. 6 is the Education International Indigenous Educator’s Seminar in South Melbourne, Victoria. This seminar is free of charge and is intended for delegates who are also attending the WIPC:E 2008. For more information on the seminar, visit www.ei-ie.org or contact Rebeca Sevilla at either rebeca.sevilla@ei-ie.org or +32-2-224-0611.

For more information about WIPC:E 2008, or to register, visit www.wipce2008.com.