World Indigenous Peoples’ Conference in Education: Unions come together to advance the rights of Indigenous Peoples

published 4 October 2022 updated 21 October 2022

The World Indigenous Peoples’ Conference in Education (WIPCE) was held this year on the traditional lands of the Kaurna Nation, the original people of the Adelaide plains, at Tarndanya, Adelaide, Australia. WIPCE is the largest and most diverse Indigenous education forum in the world. The EI delegation to the Conference consisted of over 70 education unionists, attending both in-person and online.

The WIPCE is a triennial event held in different places around the world. Since its establishment in 1987, participants are Indigenous leaders, teachers and academics who celebrate and share diverse cultures, traditions, knowledge, and strategies for Indigenous Peoples’ education. Education International and its member organisations have attended the conference since its first edition.

Strong Education International presence

Over 70 EI delegates attended WIPCE 2022. Education unions are working to ensure that Indigenous Peoples have access to equitable, quality education, to decent work opportunities, and social protection. As education is the right that supports the full enjoyment of other human rights for Indigenous People, knowledge shared at this conference is critical.

“WIPCE provides a space for teachers, union leaders, and activists, to strengthen our collective network and knowledge at the global level. With this network and knowledge, we bring back innovation to our unions, communities, and classrooms.”

Raymond Basilio | EI Executive Board Member; Secretary-General ACT-Philippines

The EI delegation was welcomed to Adelaide with a reception co-hosted by Education International, the Australian Education Union, the Independent Education Union, and the National Tertiary Education Union, which created a space to build solidarity and community in preparation for the Conference.

The Conference was attended by members and union leaders from AEU (Australia), IEU (Australia), NTEU (Australia), Fiji Teachers’ Association, Alliance of Concerned Teachers (the Philippines), PPTA Te Wehengarua (New Zealand), NZEI Te Rio Roa (New Zealand), Solomon Islands National Teachers Association, Vanuatu Teachers’ Union, Cook Islands Teachers Union, Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of British Columbia (Canada), and Alberta Teachers’ Association (Canada).

“While we were small in number among the 2,300 delegates (including 900 international delegates) we made our presence known! Union proud and union strong.”

Kevin Bates | AEU Federal Secretary

Unions for Indigenous education sovereignty

Under the theme “Indigenous Education Sovereignty: Our Voices, Our Futures”, WIPCE offered over 400 workshops, seminars, cultural experiences, knowledge circles, and keynote presentations across one week. Five seminars were led and organised by EI affiliates.

The National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU) hosted a session entitled “Staff Collective Agreements vs. Policy: Increasing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment across the Australian Higher Education Sector”. NTEU leadership and colleagues presented the work of the NTEU in negotiating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment claims and other entitlements, such as cultural/ceremonial leave and language allowance, into Staff University Collective Agreements. These claims incorporate binding targets that can be enforced if required, providing a greater level of responsibility for universities compared to policy alone.

The Federation of Post-Secondary Educators of British Columbia hosted a session on union-based approaches to operationalising the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, sharing good practices and current struggles in putting the Declaration into practice. This included addressing challenges to Indigenous academics acquiring tenure and affirmative action and more equitable hiring practices to improve the number of Indigenous professors and staff, amongst others.

The New Zealand Post Primary Teachers’ Association (PPTA) Te Wehengarua hosted a session on “Progressing Our Tiriti (Treaty) Relationship”. PPTA Te Wehengarua has a proud history of bicultural partnership with tanga te whenua Māori (first nations people in Aotearoa New Zealand), evidenced by the fact that the union has included “to uphold and advance Te Tiriti o Waitangi (the Treaty of Waitangi)” as one of its three constitutional objectives. Moreover, the organisation has a Māori Executive (Te Huarahi) and hosts an annual Māori Teachers’ Conference. Despite the union providing a great example of Māori involvement in the organisation, a feeling emerged in recent years, from members, both Māori and non-Māori, that further progress needed to be made, so they could not only survive but thrive as a bicultural organisation. The seminar explored their journey, including the policy changes made over the last 5 years to embed the new position of Māori Vice-president in union leadership and Te Kaihautū (Māori staff in the policy team) to elevate PPTA Te Wehengarua to the next level in its Tiriti partnership journey.

The New South Wales Teachers’ Federation hosted a session on the documentary film “naa muru gurung - To see a path for children”. The documentary presents the inspiring story of the many warriors, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Federation members past and present, who campaigned, supported and advocated for Aboriginal education, the rights of children, and inclusion of the First Peoples in the early years of the Australian public education system.

The New South Wales Teachers’ Federation also hosted a session where participants and presenters shared their insights on implementing the New South Wales Aboriginal Education Policy. The seminar focused on strategies for building understanding and respect for Aboriginal and Torres Islander students, histories and communities. It explored personal and professional reflections, links to the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers, policies and declarations, the use of student data, making connections and building relationships in school to improve educational outcomes of students.

The next WIPCE will be held in 2025 in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Education International and our affiliates thank the Kaurna people for welcoming us onto their traditional lands and pay respects to Elders past and present.

A more detailed report of the event is forthcoming.