Wins along way, but much more to be done

Acknowledging the Traditional Owners and appointing an Elder-In-Residence are among the many highlights of Angela Barney-Leitch’s career so far at QUT.

But she says she still has a lot to do.

The QUT Pro Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy) says her time spent at the university has opened her eyes to what can be done.

“Our plan here is to embed Indigenous Australian culture so deep that by the time I leave it will be so embedded that it will be hard to dismantle,” Ms Barney-Leitch said. “And that will take time.”

In its strategic plan, Blueprint 6, QUT has committed to supporting Indigenous engagements, success and empowerment by ensuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices are heard and embedded into university policy and planning.

The university aims to do this through increasing its Indigenous staff and research focus and further developing Indigenous Australian researchers.

QUT Pro Vice-Chancellor Angela Barney-Leitch.

“We’re also committed to increasing our enrolment and retention of Indigenous Australian students and continuing to provide dedicated support to Indigenous Australian students,” Ms Barney-Leitch said.

“But further to that, I would love to see non-Indigenous students choosing QUT because of its commitment to Indigenous Australians’ truth, culture and knowledges.”

Ms Barney-Leitch grew up in Woodridge in Logan City, with her mother – a Keppel Islands Woppaburra woman – and her migrant father. Her parents helped establish the Aboriginal kindergarten – Burragah in Woodridge, which is supported by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Services.

Ms Barney-Leitch has returned to her Country of the Keppel Islands many times, assisting to repatriate the remains of her people, working on Land Trust issues, and being involved in native title discussions.

“I’ve walked in my ancestors’ footsteps and my Country knows me as a Woppaburra enkil. I am connected to my Country through an ontological connections and thousands of years and generations,” she said.

Her interest in working in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policy and education stemmed from her mother’s work within the Aboriginal community and from living as an Aboriginal woman in a low socio-economic area.

“I think my background and my different positions across many different areas have given me the knowledge and understanding to share with QUT. I always wanted to know why things weren’t changing for Indigenous Australian children, and why they didn’t have the same opportunities as others,” she said.

“I’ve always thought educating our young people was very important and throughout my working life I’ve always thought it’s the children who will make the difference in the future but we need to give them that future.”

A former director of policy in the public service, Ms Barney-Leitch said COVID-19 has impacted the University and her role but the next 18 months were about keeping the momentum about Indigenous Australian issues at QUT.

“We have achieved a lot already and that’s why it’s so important to keep moving now.”

As for her plans outside QUT?

She is calling on Commonwealth, State and Local Governments to start thinking about policy and programs focusing on institutional and structural discrimination and creating governance structures where Indigenous Australian voices are heard.

“At the moment all that we see is a build-up in disadvantage over a child’s life and this needs to be addressed and their children’s potential unlocked. It is said that the racism in Australia is so locked in and so structural that it is impossible to change, but I think if the will is there Australians can change this and universities are in the right place to lead the change.

“It will be a hard and challenging process, but with good will and a commitment to social justice it can be changed,” she said.

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