Decolonising possibilities: the path to advancing trans-Indigenous possibilities

A program driven by the School of Culture, History & Language at the Australian National University

Across the world, the university system has advanced colonial modes of education and research through its intrinsic relationships with the nationalist project of the settler-colonial state. As a result, universities exist as haunted sites of neo/colonial power and violence. They have historically functioned as imperial observatories to study and construct knowledge about Indigenous people, rather than producing work by, for and with Indigenous people.

Indigenous theorists and educators have increasingly responded to this problem by furthering decolonial academic work in many forms. The need of the hour, for too long, has been to encourage critical conversations about this work—what it does, why it’s necessary, and what its possibilities and limitations might be.  How can Indigenous scholars from Australia, the Pacific and Asia work together and with allies to unmake relations of colonialism on our campuses? How do we articulate and invoke indigeneity in postcolonial and settler-colonial contexts, and to what end? How can we creatively imagine and move towards decolonial futures of education, research and outreach, even in the persistently colonial university? How can we design university spaces of teaching, research and community-building that encourage people to collectively practice such transformation? What burdens rest on Indigenous scholars doing this work, how can scholarly communities of care evolve to support them, and what might decolonial wellbeing look like? 

To address some of these fundamental questions and themes, the School of Culture, History & Language (CHL) at the Australian National University (ANU) initiated “Decolonising the Academy: Trans-Indigenous Possibilities” in 2019. This project brings together Indigenous scholars from across Australia, the Pacific and Asia in an evolving and expanding dialogue about what it means to practice decolonial academic work. 

These are big questions, and the collaborators of the project wanted to gather like-minded scholars from around the region to move through them together. In October 2019, ANU CHL hosted a workshop and series of public panels that brought together Indigenous scholars, artists and activists on Ngunnawal and Ngambri land. Together, the collaborators generated new perspectives and dialogues on the ways in which decolonial work is undertaken at universities and beyond. The in-person gathering, captured through a short documentary film, marked the initiation of a conversation that is hoped will grow to include more voices, and shift as the world changes. 

The core collaborators from the workshop are scholars and artists who work across archives, texts, material sources, place and environment. Crucially, they each have a creative practice alongside their research and education work.  The team frames the collaboration through the concept of ‘remix’, which highlights their widening trans-Indigenous regional dialogue, and the ways in which many Indigenous scholars weave customary values, beliefs and forms of knowledge production with disciplinary and interdisciplinary approaches, while underscoring the need for historical and political justice.

Since the inception of the program, the collaboration has evolved—especially in 2020 with the pandemic posing its challenges—to include an online platform that will continue to evolve as a hub of knowledge sharing and discussion on the pertinent themes of the project.

This website, titled Decolonial Possibilities, is a platform from which further conversations can emerge. Dissatisfied with the ways that university research attempts to control and master knowledge, the collaborators seek here to put into practice something quite different. It is hoped also that the documentary and accompanying resources on the website help provoke conversations in your own communities and universities. On 18 October 2021, at the annual flagship event for our ongoing Indigenous Remix program, the conversation will continue to progress and evolve through discussions on varied associated themes. 

The ANU-CHL team and the collaborators of Decolonial Possibilities look forward to traversing further on the path to decolonial discovery and exploring ways to achieve their vision of decolonial futures in the realms of education, research and beyond.