Teaching for the 21st Century: Indigenising the Law Curriculum at UWA

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The Law School and the School of Indigenous Studies at the University of Western Australia (UWA) have embarked on a project to ‘Indigenise’ the UWA Juris Doctor (JD) degree. For the purposes of the project, ‘Indigenise’ is defined as the incorporation of Indigenous knowledges, cultures and experiences throughout the JD in a way that is consistent with our Principles of Indigenisation (see Part IV below).

The project began in 2018, and it is expected to take five years to develop the initial curriculum across all units of the JD. This article examines key features of the project in the context of the broader complexities of Indigenisation of curriculum. These features are: (1) an equitable and ongoing partnership between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples; (2) a set of best practice principles for Indigenisation; (3) a culturally competent approach; (4) a whole-of-degree basis for curriculum change; and (5) an iterative and supported process for curriculum development and delivery.

The term ‘cultural competency’ can be fraught and requires exploration (see Part V below). For now it is sufficient to note that the Indigenisation Project has adopted a definition of cultural competency that consists of three key understandings. First, cultural competency is a journey not a destination; a lifelong active learning process, not a passive state of being. Second, an understanding of Indigenous peoples and contexts, along with the ability to relate to peoples and contexts in accordance with best practice principles. This must include local peoples and contexts (that is, engagement with the Indigenous peoples on whose Country an organisation exists). Third, an ability to articulate and critically engage with one’s own cultural and professional contexts.

The structure of this article is reflective of the process-oriented approach taken to the project as a whole, or to put this another way, the ‘how’ informs the ‘what’. The ‘what’ of Indigenous content within any given unit arises from, and sustained by, the processes put in place by the larger project and the partnership between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples that underpins it. Parts III - V of this article deal with the importance of that partnership; the principles against which our content is measured; and the ways in which we are developing the cultural competence of our staff and students. These matters are placed in a broader context of their relevance to higher education and to the working environments of the 21st century (Part II). In this regard it is noted that the project is informed by a broad knowledge-base which includes decades of work on cultural competency, including in relation to curriculum development outside of law schools. The legal academy is a relative newcomer to Indigenisation, and there is much to be learned from experiences in other knowledge-disciplines as well as from work done across professional contexts.

The final two sections focus more specifically on the implementation of Indigenous content within our JD degree. Consistent with a process-oriented approach, curriculum is not pre-determined but emerges from the expertise of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples working together, informed by a culturally competent approach and measured against best practice principles. Parts VI and VII discuss how this is achieved across the degree and at an individual unit level.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages30
JournalLegal Education Review
Publication statusPublished - 27 Feb 2020


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