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Embedding First Nations perspectives into the law curriculum, 'what do you do when it's all left up to you?'

Dr Katie O'Bryan, Monash University


First Nations people have borne the brunt of the colonial legal system imported by the British when Australia was first invaded. Accordingly, it is important that First Nations perspectives be embedded into the law curriculum to acknowledge the impact those colonial laws have had (and continue to have) on First Nations communities, and to facilitate change.

The most appropriate way to embed First Nations perspectives into the law curriculum is to have First Nations people involved in curriculum development and design, and in teaching law units. However, there is still a long way to go before this will become a reality for many law schools. Until such time as there are sufficient First Nations law academics to undertake these roles, it is incumbent upon non- Indigenous law academics to do what they can. But what do you do if it’s all left up to you?

Drawing on the work of the Indigenous Cultural Competency for Legal Academics Program and personal experience, this paper will outline some simple, practical, and achievable suggestions for law academics to use in the classroom, particularly those who may not have the time, the confidence, or the authority to make major changes to the law curriculum. The focus will be on core units, where the content is largely dictated by the professional admission requirement of external accrediting organisations. Examples will be drawn from, in particular, public law subjects such as Administrative Law and Constitutional Law.

By putting these simple suggestions into practice, the aim is to show respect to First Nations people, validate their experiences of the legal system and inform non- Indigenous students of the impact that colonial laws have had on First Nations peoples. It also indicates to First Nations students that the views and experiences of their communities matter, which may help to retain those students. It may also lead to more First Nations people studying law and thus increase the pool of First Nations law academics who can develop, design, deliver and by doing so, decolonise, the law curriculum.