Dr. Tom Calma, National Coordinator for Tackling Indigenous Smoking in Australia, gave a presentation on the Indigenous Education System in Australia and it’s Challenges at the 2010 International Austronesian Conference in Taipei. He spoke of an issue shared by remote indigenous communities around the world, finding resources to provide an education to children, especially qualified teachers. He shared the specific case of the remote village of Garrthalala in Arnhem Land. The elders wanted their children to receive a secondary education in their homeland, instead of in the cities. They didn’t want their children to lose touch with their indigenous cultural heritage. By working together, community leaders created a secondary education program that allowed seven students to graduate from local secondary schools in 2008. The brief revealed how the efforts of the leaders raised home-grown teachers that returned to the communities. It also showed the importance of having the indigenous cultural education incorporated into the education received by the area’s adolescents. Dr. Tom Calma shared this example for others at the conference to learn from.
I sat down with Dr. Calma after his presentation out in the courtyard and convened a short interview.
Q: How did you find yourself at this conference?
A: I was invited by the Council of Indigenous Peoples in Taiwan, and it was quite unexpected. I really appreciated the opportunity.
Q: What is your impression of the conference?
A: It’s great to be involved with so many groups of people working with the government to solve problems. I am a strong advocate of sharing of information and ideas. The issues indigenous people are facing is common to all.
Q: What do you want people to take away from your presentation today?
A: I want them to see that there is a solidarity with indigenous peoples working together. I want people to see the struggles are shared. I want to see people get together at the U.N. I want people to see what different governments are doing, because it gives other governments pressure to follow.
Q: What would you like to accomplish while you are in Taiwan?
A: I would like to work with my peers in Taiwan who are combating smoking for possible collaboration. I also would like to see more Justice Reinvestment. It would be great to see study tours and cultural exchanges between Taiwanese indigenous peoples and the Australian aborigines.
Dr. Tom Calma spent several days in Taipei, before the conference resumed at the Fleur de Chine Resort at Sun-Moon Lake in the mountains of Central Taiwan.