NAIDOC WEEK 2019: Voice. Treaty. Truth

Let's work together for a shared future

Indigenous Churchill Fellow, consultant and researcher JESSA ROGERS shares some of her Fellowship aspirations to help us celebrate NAIDOC Week 2019

Jessa Rogers


What is the focus of your Churchill Fellowship?

I received my Churchill Fellowship (in late 2018), to examine English language acquisition methods for Indigenous and diverse school-aged students, while strengthening and maintaining home culture and languages. I’ve chosen to travel to Canada, Finland, Norway, Basque Country (Spain) and Greece as these sites are making major advances in English acquisition in culturally-strong ways. 

This project was originally sparked by my role on the English Language Learning for Indigenous Children (ELLIC) Federal expert group. Our 2016 Census showed that 1 in 10 Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people speak an Indigenous language at home. 

Although a great challenge, I believe Australia can learn from other countries in teaching children to gain skills in English while also strengthening their home languages. This is vital.


When are you planning to travel? 

Since receiving my Fellowship late last year I have been quite busy planning the timing and details of my trip. I’m now really looking forward to embarking on my journey in November this year. 

It feels particularly timely to be undertaking this project now, as 2019 has been declared the International Year of Indigenous Languages by The United Nations General Assembly. This makes 2019 a really great opportunity for all Australians to learn more about our Australian Indigenous languages – especially the fact that 90% of them are considered endangered. 

It is crucial we address this issue now as Aboriginal languages are so important in maintaining cultural connections – stories, songs, and meanings that cannot be fully ‘translated’ into Standard Australian English. 

Indigenous research and lived experience shows that when languages are lost, communities and people feel a deep sense of loss, grief and disconnection. Keeping Aboriginal languages strong is so important for Indigenous peoples.


What are you most looking forward to? 

I’m excited about all of it, and I’m really enjoying the process of fine-tuning the details of my journey, especially meeting new people from across the world in preparation for my visit via the web.

In Norway I will be looking at multi-disciplinary research in English-language learning for Sámi Indigenous language speakers at the Centre for Sámi Studies at the Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø, as well as oral language and multilingualism in Indigenous student education at the Centre for Sámi Language in Education at the Sámi University of Applied Sciences. 

In Greece I will be investigating English-language acquisition research and strategies for Native country language speakers at the University of Macedonia, Greece. 

I am especially excited to learn more about the experiences of Indigenous language speaking students learning English and cross-linguistic influences within schools at the Language and Speech Laboratory, University of the Basque Country, Spain. I am finalising visits to schools now, but aim to visit one in each country I visit as well. 


How do you plan to share your Fellowship findings and what are you hoping to achieve? 

I’m planning to maintain a blog throughout my trip to share videos, pictures, information and my reflections, and will be active on Twitter and Facebook with the same. The link for those interested in following my journey will be on my profile page.

In addition to my report, I aim to present my findings in public presentations and in publications. I will also keep in touch with the people I meet and hope that we can collaborate on more long-term projects that build on our connections and findings, toward community aims and empowerment. 

I will share my work in my role on the AITSL Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education Advisory Group and Aboriginal education committees I am on. My findings will also inform my work in Indigenous education and my publications in this space, in books and articles.

In bringing back the knowledge shared with me, ultimately, I hope to assist educators in creating culturally supportive, linguistically diverse environments for Aboriginal students. It is important we learn from others on the best ways to protect our Aboriginal languages while equipping our youth with the English skills they need in modern Australia.


This year’s NAIDOC theme is “Voice. Treaty. Truth. Let’s work together for a shared future.” Do you have any reflections on this you would like to share? 

Many truths about Indigenous histories globally have been covered up, for a variety of reasons. The only way forward is to uncover these truths. 

The area of truth my Fellowship will touch on is education - the way it has been used as a tool for colonisation, often under the guise of ‘Christianity’ and ‘civilising’ Native peoples. This took (and some argue, still takes) the form of schools, especially boarding schools, forcing English language and Western norms onto Indigenous language speakers. 

My Fellowship looks at how Indigenous languages are maintained in meaningful and culturally supportive ways, while also enabling students to access English language skills, which they need for other contexts in life.


About Jessa Rogers

Dr Jessa Rogers is a Wiradjuri academic, artist, board director and consultant. Dr Rogers sits on the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia, the Steering Committee of Future Earth Australia, and the AITSL Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Group. She is also a member of the AHPRA Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Strategy Group. Jessa was a Fulbright Scholar in 2017 based at Harvard University, and holds an Honorary Fellowship with the National Centre for Indigenous Studies at the ANU. She currently works as a manager in PwC Indigenous Consulting. Jessa received her Churchill Fellowship in 2018.