13 Indigenous Focus ‘Closing the Gap’ is an Australian Government strategy aiming to reduce disadvantage among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with respect to life expectancy, child mortality, access to early childhood education, educational achievement and employment outcomes. Trinity is actively participating, and in 2017 has 28 residential Indigenous students. Torres Strait Islander Sana Nakata (TC 2001) observes that on entering Trinity as one of its first two Indigenous residential scholarship recipients she found the College to be ‘very old, very traditional, very wealthy and very white!’ ‘But it was incredibly exciting to be in an environment where ambition and excellence were affirmed,’ she says. ‘It made me a more curious and inclusive, and I’m grateful for that for so many reasons.’ Dr Nakata, BA(Hons)/LLB, PhD is now a lecturer in political science at the University of Melbourne and an Australian Research Council Discovery Indigenous Research Fellow undertaking research on Representations of Children in Australian Political Controversies. In October this year she was appointed to the Board of Trinity College. Educational outcomes like Sana’s are what inspire Trinity’s ongoing efforts to increase access to the best possible higher education for very able Indigenous Australians: not only through offering residential places and scholarships, but also by funding places in the Young Leaders Program and by contributing to the University of Melbourne’s development of the Bachelor of Arts (Extended) and Bachelor of Science (Extended) degrees. The release of the government’s ninth Closing the Gap report in February this year provided further encouragement in higher education outcomes. It revealed that in the decade from 2005 to 2015 there was a 93% increase in the number (from 8,330 to 16,062) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in higher education award courses, compared with 47% growth for all domestic students. It also stated that Indigenous university graduates find work faster and at higher pay rates than their non-Indigenous counterparts, with 74% of Indigenous graduates in full-time employment in 2016, as against 70.9% of non-Indigenous graduates. Clearly, such success is to be celebrated. But Dr Nakata also has some reservations. ‘It’s great to see more and more Indigenous Australian students obtaining pathways into university, but I do wonder how successful universities have been at identifying students with the strongest academic potential, and I worry a lot about the quality of curriculum across the sector as a whole,’ she says. ‘It’s essential that higher education allows students to break out of historical and ideological polemics in which “Indigenous” subject positions have sometimes been cast as anything that stands against “Western” knowledge. The Bachelor of Arts (Extended) program has been doing some really innovative work in developing curriculum that escapes these old binaries, which is essential to creating future leaders who can think critically and creatively about old problems.’ Creation of such leaders could be further accelerated if non- Indigenous Australians acquire a deeper knowledge and understanding of Indigenous social, cultural, economic and political matters. Providing opportunities for non-Indigenous members of the Trinity community to gain such insight is the other main aim of Trinity’s Indigenous engagement. The Visiting Indigenous Fellows program has included periodic visits by Marika Elders from the Rirratjingu clan of the Yolngu people of north-east Arnhem Land, TOWARDS AN INCLUSIVE FUTURE who have entrusted a repository of traditional Dhuwa learning to Trinity’s custodianship. Visits by Trinity students – originally to the remote Northern Territory community of Minyerri, later to Yirrkala and surrounding Yolngu country – to the Indigenous training College at Cairns called Wantulp-bi-Buya, and in 2017 to the Garma Festival, are among other initiatives helping to build bridges of knowledge and communication. But Dr Nakata believes ‘engendering respect for different ways of being and knowing in the world’ is key. ‘I think it’s about respect for the history of this country, before and since the arrival of Europeans, and an appreciation that history is contested and highly political,’ she says. ‘It’s about opening up a space in which we can have incredibly difficult conversations where we – Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians – are all required to think very critically about our own position in this country and how that relates to others around us. My experience at Trinity has equipped me well for being willing to enter into difficult conversations with the respect for others and intellectual rigor it requires.’ BY ROSEMARY SHELUDKO Sana Nakata.