NT 0872  

NT Minister for Education
Marion Scrymgour
Legislative Assembly

Dear Marion,

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This is what I said at the World Indigenous Peoples Conference: Education, in Melbourne. Please read it and please don’t force us to use English only the first four hours of the day. It’s very hard to teach Warlpiri Literacy in the afternoons when it is so hot and the kids are sleepy and can’t listen properly.

Hello every one. Thank you for coming to listen to us. We are Warlpiri from Central Australia. My name is Cecily Napanangka Granites and I’ve come with Alice Napurrurla. We come from Yuendumu which is about 300 kilometres from Alice Springs. There are four Warlpiri communities where we all speak Warlpiri our first language.

At Yuendumu we have had our Two-way or bilingual program going in our school for 34 years. We started in 1974. We are very proud of our school and our Two-way program. Some of our old Warlpiri teachers worked in our Two-way program for over 30 years and they have retired now. I have been working in the school for 28 years. I was young when I started and now I am a grandmother, getting old now. I started as an assistant teacher in 1979 and later I did teacher training through the RATE program (Remote Area Teacher Education), which used to be provided by Batchelor College. I finished my fourth year in 1996. It makes me sad that there is no RATE program any more because there will be no trained Warlpiri teachers to replace us older teachers when we retire. There will just be assistant teachers but they don’t have the same power and respect.

I decided to work as a teacher because I want to see our children grow up strong in Warlpiri language and culture and also learn English as a second language. I believe in education as the way to a better future for our families and our communities. I have always sent my children and grandchildren to school every day and when they finish primary school, I’m sending them away to boarding school to get a proper secondary education.

I believe our Two-way program has been working well because all our children and young people who grow up and go to school in Yuendumu speak our Warlpiri language very well and we have strong Warlpiri families. Most of our workers in our community went through our bilingual or Two-way program: our two Aboriginal Police Officers, our shop workers in our three shops, our health workers, our Warlpiri Media workers, our young assistant teachers and literacy workers, our Child Care and Old People’s program, our Warlu-kurlangu Artists Association, our youth program and swimming pool workers, Jaru Pirrjirdi workers who look after young people in trouble with the law and encourage cultural activities. There are about 90 Warlpiri people fully employed in Yuendumu and many casual workers and about 400 artists. We do have a problem that there are not enough suitable jobs for our young men. They don’t want to just pick up rubbish every day. It’s no wonder they go off drinking.

Every now and then there are people in the government who don’t agree with us teaching our children in Warlpiri even though we have always taught English as well. We are having this problem right now. In the past, other communities have lost their bilingual programs but we have always struggled to keep our program going. We have had some hard times with unsupporting principals but we never gave up. We will never give up because our Warlpiri language is so important to us. It’s who we are. We are Warlpiri and we are strong, proud people. We can’t let our parents and grandparents down even though they might have passed away. We know what they wanted for us and our children. They were strong and wise in Warlpiri culture and we have to do our best to be like them.

Crikey understands that, notwithstanding Scrymgour’s indication of her further involvement in the ‘transformation’ of education in remote NT schools, Paul Henderson has asked that all future correspondence about bilingual education be directed to him.

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