Cultural competence includes the ability to critically reflect on one's own culture and professional paradigms in order to understand its cultural limitations and effect positive change.
Indigenous cultural competence requires an organisational culture which is committed to social justice, human rights and the process of reconciliation through valuing and supporting Indigenous cultures, knowledge and peoples as integral to the core business of the institution. It requires effective and inclusive policies and procedures, monitoring mechanisms and allocation of sufficient resources to foster culturally competent behaviour and practice at all levels of the institution.
Embedding Indigenous cultural competence requires commitment to a whole of institution approach, including increasing the University's engagement with Indigenous communities, Indigenisation of the curriculum, pro-active provision of services and support to Indigenous students, capacity building of Indigenous staff, professional development of non-Indigenous staff and the inclusion of Indigenous cultures and knowledges as a visual and valued aspect of University life, governance and decision-making.
National best practice framework for Cultural Competency in Australian Universities
Cross et al.'s (1989) definition of cultural competence emphasizes three crucial issues for professionals who want to become culturally competent:
Weaver (1999:218) argues that: 'most models of cultural competence consist of qualities that fall under the general components of knowledge, skills, and values... The three components of cultural competence are interactive, and none is sufficient in and of itself to bring about appropriate practice. Striving for cultural competence is a long-term, on-going process of development'.
Because of this dynamic interaction, to try to break down cultural competence into its elements is largely an artificial exercise. It follows, then, that developing cultural competence is more complex than completing a series of training sessions, ticking a series of boxes and claiming at the end that one is culturally competent. Nevertheless, it is useful to unpack the elements and place them in a systematic sequence to provide a guiding structure for the development of cultural competence. The following depiction of cultural competence in relation to Indigenous Australians is based on that published in by McConnochie and Nolan (2008:192-193).
This component includes
This component again includes two linked elements:
This third component builds on the first two components to enable the practitioner to develop a repertoire of skills needed to work more effectively as a professional in trans-cultural contexts. Some skills can be practised within a classroom or workshop setting or outside a work situation altogether however, specific professionally relevant skills in working effectively with Indigenous Australians can only be learnt on the job, in a specific cultural or intercultural context or within discipline specific Indigenous Australian Studies subjects.
In other words, having attended a cultural competence training workshop, or even many workshops, is not the end of the process, merely another step along the way. The real learning occurs in context, and will probably involve making 'mistakes' (learning opportunities) and returning 'back to the classroom', possibly even back to the very basic first steps.
Reflecting on individual values and attitudes is part of what non-Indigenous practitioners refer to as 'doing our own work' (Powis, 2008:83). Critical reflexivity involves developing an understanding of:
There is widespread agreement within the literature that the development of cultural competence is a continuous process, not a single event. As Campinha-Bacote (2005:1) notes: 'Competence is a process, not an event; a journey, not a destination; dynamic, not static; and involves the paradox of knowing'.
Marcia Wells (2000:192) developed a model based on Cross et al.'s (1989) conception of cultural competence as a continuum. Her model places the elements of cultural competence (knowledge, attitudes and skills) in a developmental framework with the following sequence of stages along a continuum from cultural incompetence to cultural proficiency:
Indigenous Australian Studies provides contextual foundation for integrated discipline specific Indigenous content in remainder of program.
click on the image to view a larger version of the model
Developed by Ranzijn, R., McConnochie, K., & Nolan, W. (2007)
Combining the six steps below with the six stages of Wells's (2000) cultural competence continuum produces a matrix which can be used to guide the development of cultural competence. The matrix encompasses many levels of experience, from beginning higher education studies through to practitioners who may have been working in the field for many years. The model outlines a process or journey which commonly (but not necessarily, depending on experience) begins at the bottom left hand corner (in the case of people who are culturally incompetent), and progresses towards the upper right hand corner (however, note the earlier comments about the need to re-visit the basics).
Any particular person could be located at any point in the matrix, or indeed at a number of points simultaneously, not necessarily on the arrow. In fact, it is unlikely that someone would be located right on the arrow, since people are likely to be at different levels of cultural competence depending on which content area they are proficient in. For instance, someone may be high on cultural proficiency in their generic understanding of culture while at the same time being culturally incompetent in the area of critically examining their profession.
This model has some important implications:
click on the image to view a larger version of the model
"[T]he AVCC accept[s] the principle that all Australian higher education students [should] receive some understanding of Indigenous knowledge systems, cultures and values as an integral part of their studies. There are tangible benefits to be obtained in greater numbers of students gaining an understanding of Indigenous issues. The implementation of this principle will provide a sound basis for equipping all students with some generic skills for living in our society"
Australian Vice Chancellor's Submission to the Higher Education Review (2002:38).
Universities in Australia have been educating professionals for over 100 years. The education provided by Universities has shaped the thinking and practices of generations of professionals who have played a significant role in structuring relationships between Indigenous Australians and the broader society, including advising colonial and contemporary governments, authorities and professional bodies on policy and practice, constructing and legitimating societal values and attitudes, and providing professional services to Indigenous peoples.
The National Best Practice Framework provides a guide to the implementation of Indigenous Cultural Competency in the Australian higher education sector.
As the institution responsible for educating the next generation of professionals across a range of disciplines, Charles Sturt University has a significant role in shaping the culture, paradigms and practices of those professions. CSU has a major responsibility to provide the next generation of professionals with knowledge and understanding of Indigenous cultures, histories and contemporary contexts and equip graduates with culturally appropriate skills and strategies to prepare them for working effectively with Indigenous clients and/or communities. This education should engage students in a critical inquiry into the nature of their profession - its history, assumptions and characteristics, its role in structuring Australian society, and its historical and contemporary engagement with Indigenous communities and Indigenous people. These professional characteristics need to be examined and understood if professionals are to develop an understanding of the social and political contexts of Indigenous people's lives and communities and the roles of the professions in shaping those contexts to become agents of change.
The inclusion of Indigenous content into all CSU undergraduate programs offered by Charles Sturt University has the power to change the nature of Australian society and the quality of service provision provided to Indigenous Australians. The systematic and systemic inclusion of Indigenous Studies provides CSU with the opportunity to define itself as a leading institution in Indigenous Education and a significant agent for social change and ethical practice in contemporary Australian society. The implementation of policy ensuring that all graduates are provided with the opportunity to develop knowledge, skills, motivation and confidence to be able to work professionally with Indigenous people and communities provides CSU with the foundation upon which to set this higher education institution apart from other universities, being second only to the University of South Australia in implementing such policy.
What should be included in cultural competence training? A focus group convened to identify the skills and attributes that Indigenous Australians and various employer groups argued should attain provided detailed suggestions for the content of training.
The main issues arising from the focus group were:
In the area of understanding Indigenous cultures, histories and communities, the group thought that the content should include:
Finally, the group felt that exploring the nature of the profession should include:
These points can be grouped into six categories, two for each of the three main attributes of cultural competence, namely, knowledge (steps 1 and 2 below), values (steps 3 and 4), and skills (steps 5 and 6). Developing cultural competence in relation to Indigenous Australians in a thorough and comprehensive manner involves progressing more or less in the following sequence from basic knowledge through to professionally specific skills:
There are many possible definitions of cultural competence. Tracy Westerman, an Aboriginal psychologist from Western Australia who is working to raise awareness about the need to be culturally competent when working with Indigenous Australians, comments that, 'cultural competence is about the ability of practitioners to identify, intervene and treat mental health complaints in ways that recognise the central role that culture plays in mental illness' (Westerman, 2004, p. 2).
The Australian literature on cultural competence and the incorporation of Indigenous Australian content into university degree programs does not have a long history. There was a steady trickle of literature discussing Indigenous content in University courses from the 1970s to the mid-1990s focusing on two linked issues: how to improve the enrolment and retention of Indigenous students in university courses, (e.g. see Schwas, 1995) and the inclusion of Indigenous content in teacher education programs, with the specific intent of developing the awareness and skills to enable teachers to teach Indigenous Studies in primary and secondary schools (Craven, 1997).
In general this earlier literature does not specifically address the inclusion of Indigenous Studies for non-Indigenous students across professional areas. By the mid-1990s the literature began developing, with some identifiable new threads emerging. Staff within a few universities began exploring the position of Indigenous knowledge systems and possible strategies to improve the representation of these knowledge systems across their universities (Anderson, Singh, Stehbens, & Tyerson 1998; Collard, Walker, & Dudgeon 1998; Lampert, 1996; Lampert & Lilley, 1996; Harris & Malin, 1997; Morris, 1999).
At the same time academics began reporting on their experiences of attempting to incorporate Indigenous content within specific disciplines and professions, including education (Craven, 1997); law (Clarke & Orford, 1998; Carpenter, Fields & Barnes, 2004) ; health and nursing (Hardy, Miller, Stewart, & Lewin, 1998; Harkin, Newbury, Henneberg, & Hudson, 2000; Morris, 1999; Phillips, 2004a); and psychology (Altman, 1996; Riggs, 2004; Sonn, 2004; Sonn, Garvey, Bishop, & Smith, 2000).
From 2000 onwards the literature began elaborating, exploring the emergence of a debate around theoretical frameworks concerning relationships between Indigenous and western knowledge systems (Dodson, 2000; Forrest, 2000; McConaghy, 2000; Nakata, 2002, 2004) and the pedagogical difficulties associated with teaching required Indigenous content to non-Indigenous students, particularly exploring issues of resistance and hostility, and strategies to overcome these issues (Altman, 1996; Bin-Sallik, 2003; McConaghy, 2003; Nomikoudis, 2002; Sonn, 2004; papers from Tertiary Aboriginal Studies Conference 2000). The establishment of policy statements by universities, professional bodies and accrediting agencies requiring the inclusion of Indigenous content within professional programs has been a feature of this literature over the last few years.
Within this literature a number of issues are apparent. The ongoing success of initiatives to introduce required Indigenous Studies content in Australian university programs has been significantly reduced by:
Charles Sturt University (CSU) leads Cultural Immersion experiences to Ngiyeempaa country in Menindee in western NSW, advancing the aim to produce an institution-wide transition from Indigenous cultural awareness to cultural competence.
The objective of this journey is to give staff the experience of being connected to Country, of learning about Indigenous culture from Indigenous people and of reflecting upon their professional practice in light of this. On the four-day camp, participants sit with Ngiyeempaa Elder Aunty Beryl Yungh a dhu Philp-Carmichael to listen and learn cultural ways and forms of respect.
Dr Barbara Hill, Indigenous Curriculum and Pedagogy Coordinator in the CSU Division of Learning and Teaching, said,
"The experience of participants at Menindee affirms that social justice and reconciliation are at the heart of efforts by the University to produce an institution-wide transition that will foster and ensure increasing Indigenous student recruitment, retention and completion of its courses."
Since its inception in 2010, more than 100 academic, executive and senior University staff have travelled on this journey. These included CSU Vice-Chancellor, Professor Andrew Vann, early in his tenure in 2012, and before him, former Vice-Chancellor, Emeritus Professor Ian Goulter, in 2011.
The learning experience is an expression of the University's commitment to achieve objectives which are reiterated in the University Strategy 2013-2015. Specifically, CSU aims to 'improve educational outcomes and lives for Indigenous, regional, rural and remote Australians'.
In Indigenous education, CSU has adopted three strategic priorities. These are to (1) 'implement cultural competency training for all staff'; (2) 'ensure all undergraduate programs incorporate Indigenous Australian content consistent with the Indigenous cultural competence pedagogical framework'; and, (3) 'maintain national leadership in this area'.
The University's efforts will be judged by its 'improvements in the proportion of Indigenous students'. Analysis of ABS Census data by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) revealed there was a notable increase in the number of Indigenous students in Australian tertiary institutions between 2006 and 2011 (from 7 057 students to 10 128 students), with enrolments growing by about 43 per cent. The authors noted, however, that Indigenous students are still considerably underrepresented in Australian higher education. While Indigenous people made up 2.5 per cent of the Australian population in 2011, only 1.09 per cent of university students were Indigenous.
Against this data, in 2012 CSU had 685 Indigenous students, or 1.8 per cent of all CSU enrolments, which was a 15.5 per cent increase on 2011 enrolments (n = 593).
"In the recent ABC TV screening of First Footprints, the director Bentley Dean explains an experience he had one evening around the campfire with Wiradjuri archaeologist, Wayne Brennan," Dr Hill said. "Mr Brennan explained the meaning of an ancient Wiradjuri idea – birrung burrung – literally the moment when ripples in a pond cease, allowing one to see deep into it.
"In 2010, Wiradjuri Elder, Aunty Gloria (Dindima) Rogers, spoke similar words to the first CSU group to travel to Menindee; 'A stone thrown into a pond sends out many ripples. That is what we are doing here,' she said.
"The CSU journey west to Menindee cultural immersion experience in 2013 again created these ripples. With Aunty Beryl (Yungha dhu) Philp Carmichael, and her expert teaching, the group had a very powerful individual and collective sense of 'seeing deeply into things'.
"I feel this experience really resonates with the Wiradjuri phrase prefaced in the CSU University Strategy (2013-2015) yindyamarra winhanga-nha – 'the wisdom of respectfully knowing how to live in a world worth living in'."
Dr Hill and former CSU colleague Dr Jane Mills have written elsewhere* that cultural competence is an ongoing journey, not an event. This process is testified to by participants who have reported their perceptions of the journey to Menindee in post-camp reports.
The University's aim is not to force Indigenous community engagement and collaboration on staff but to build it into performance management descriptors so that those who do engage are encouraged and rewarded. Two examples illustrate this process.
Professor Robert Davidson, Associate Head of the CSU School of Dentistry and Health Sciences and Professor of Medical Imaging, wrote of his Menindee experience, 'One of the reasons I was invited to attend the weekend (in October 2013) was that the Bachelor of Medical Radiation Science is undergoing a revision to integrate Indigenous Australian content into the course, rather than having it as a stand-alone subject. It was felt that this would help students to understand that cultural competence was integral to their future practice, rather than an optional addition.'
Charles Sturt University is working with Menindee Central School, Aunty Beryl Philp Carmichael and her daughter Julie Philp with 'Joining the Dreaming' to bring deep space to the investigative classroom. At the October 2012 cultural immersion experience in Menindee, CSU staff delivered two telescopes to the school and Aunty Beryl, as part of an 'Indigenous Sky Stories in the Middle School' project led by Associate Professor David McKinnon from the CSU School of Teacher Education. This CSU-funded project uses astronomy as the context for engaging Australian Indigenous middle-school students (Years 5-8) in science, mathematics and technology, as well as aspects of engineering. Astronomy is a component of the National Science Curriculum and an Australian flagship Super Science area. Students will learn about the contents of the universe and how objects within our Solar System move, knowledge which is integral content for the National Science Curriculum 'Earth and Space' strand. In addition, Indigenous students and their non-Indigenous counterparts will share their cosmogonies with Sioux, Arapaho and Crow Nation students in North and South Dakota, and Wyoming, in the USA. The interaction within and between nations will allow marginalised groups and their communities to share, compare and contrast their 'sky stories'.
Writing of his Menindee experience, CSU Vice-Chancellor Professor Andrew Vann gratefully acknowledged Aunty Beryl and her family's hospitality, and looked forward to returning. He noted the Ngiyeempa tradition of story telling to transmit law and expectations, and reflected on what universities can draw from that at a time of significant change.
'It seems to me that in the contemporary university we have a critical need to nurture a sense of shared culture owned by all parties and to retain a sense of agency in the face of what is admittedly a very competitive environment,' he wrote. 'I think there might be things to learn from Indigenous cultures.'
Author: Bruce Andrews
Read more about the Menindee cultural immersion experience in:
Barbara Hill and Jane Mills (2012), 'Situating the 'beyond': Adventure-learning and Indigenous cultural competence', in Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, DOI:10.1080/01596306.2012.698864