Indigenous Killjoys Negotiating the Labyrinth of Dis/Mistrust

Indigenous Killjoys Negotiating the Labyrinth of Dis/Mistrust

Bronwyn Carlson
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3618-6.ch007
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Indigenous scholars often feel like they have to do better and be better to fit in the academy. The sense of being an imposer is an emotion that is familiar to many. Indigenous women particularly become very accustomed to the gendered and racialized codes of academia. Raising the issue positions Indigenous women as killjoys – always demanding more than they are entitled. Indigenous scholars bring a lot to the academy and can draw on millennia of Indigenous knowledge as they negotiate a labyrinth of dis/mistrust in the system. Despite this, they will prevail as scholars of substance and worth.
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After being awarded a PhD in 2012 I was subsequently offered my first full-time permanent position at a university. Like many Indigenous women in the sector, I was the first person in my family to attend university. I had started studying as a mature aged student, in my mid-30s with 4 children in tow. My experience of school had been marred by the low expectations that were applied to me as an Aboriginal person and I left before I could graduate with any formal high school qualifications. In one instance, I was instructed by the principal of the high school I was attending, to think about a career as a cleaner. There were no expectations that an Aboriginal student would or could aspire to anything other than domestic work. There is of course nothing wrong with being a cleaner. My issue with this instruction was that it was given as the only aspiration I should hold. It is by sheer luck that I even went to university. I was doing some family history research when I ended up at the Indigenous support unit on campus at the University of Wollongong, talking to an Indigenous student support officer, who suggested I should apply to come to university.

As an undergraduate, I experienced the lack of confidence familiar to so many Indigenous students, to many women, gender and sexually diverse students and those from low socio-economic backgrounds. The ‘imposter syndrome’ in particular, was reinforced by the institution through tokenism and, in general, through the ways in which Aboriginal education was devalued. I recall one event which occurred while I was in my first year at university studying a Bachelor of Arts. The class was discussing Aboriginal artifacts and the teacher, a non-Indigenous man, brought a didgeridoo to show as an example of an Aboriginal musical instrument. We know that the Yidaki, as it is known to us, is more than a musical instrument. The teacher closed the door, looked around the room and said, “Aboriginal people don’t allow women to play the didgeridoo but there are no Aboriginal people here today, so you can all give it a go if you like”. In that moment I understood the devaluing of Indigenous knowledges and protocols. I also learnt a lot about the politics of identity. I was determined and although I acknowledged much of the institutional racism that pervades the academy, I managed to navigate a path towards achieving a tertiary education.

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