Indigenisation, Decolonisation and Cultural Inclusion

This section focuses on critically reviewing OER through a decolonised lens, Indigenising OER, and other opportunities for cultural inclusion in OER.


  • Be aware of ethnocentrism.
  • Critique OER through a decolonised lens.
  • Understand Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP) and that open licensing aren’t always appropriate.
  • Engage with First Nations Elders and communities when creating content.

Actions and Considerations

  • Always engage with First Nations Elders and communities when creating OER related to First Nations issues.
  • Add an Acknowledgment of Country to the open textbooks you create, to acknowledge the land in which the work was authored.
  • Consider translating content into different languages.
  • Become familiar with protocols relating to Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property.

Be Aware of Ethnocentrism

It’s easy for ethnocentrism – voluntarily or involuntarily viewing the world through the lens of your own ethnicity or culture without taking other ethnicities or cultures into account – to creep into the content and presentation of a textbook, so this is something you’ll need to be aware of. This doesn’t mean you should try to write a textbook that fits every culture and perspective – just be respectful.

One of the benefits of open textbooks is that instructors from different countries and cultures can customise them to suit their needs, including:

  • translating a textbook into a different language
  • adjusting the content to meet local cultural, regional and geographical needs
  • revising the material for a different learning environment.

For example, you may decide to adapt an American open textbook to fit the Australian context or expand the content to include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives.

Open Education and Indigenous Knowledge

Open education is grounded in Western understandings of ownership, protocol, and accessibility. Often open education has the goal of making all knowledges available to all peoples. Within Australian copyright law there is tension between Indigenous knowledges and Indigenous ways of knowing and being. The open education community must carefully consider Indigenous knowledges and self-determination, which are deeply rooted in community-defined ethics and protocols and do not fit into ordinary academic contexts. Three essentials tips when working with OER and First Nation’s content are:

  1. Relationships must come first.
  2. “Nothing about us without us” – means that First Nations peoples and communities must be consulted when working with First Nations content.
  3. Not all knowledges should be open. Dr Sarah Lambert said “The ‘open is great for everybody’ narrative is not a good fit for Indigenous knowledge sovereignty. I’ve been learning a lot from and with Johanna Funk on ‘two-ways’ learning (an Australian Indigenous education model) and getting more understanding about the kinds of community leadership roles you need to have in an Indigenous community before you have the authority to share knowledge. And conversely, the kind of role you need to have to receive some of that knowledge,” (Cronin, 2022).

However, there are a set of licences and educative labels to support Indigenous traditional and local peoples’ rights to maintain, control, protect and develop their cultural heritage, traditional knowledge and traditional cultural expressions. These are called Traditional Knowledge (TK) Licences. Work to refine and extend the TK Licenses is currently being conducted in collaboration with the Te Kotahi Research Institute at the University of Waikato.

The Five Rs

Kayla Lar-Son of Métis questioned the five R’s of OER as they didn’t make sense to her as an Indigenous woman, working with many different knowledges. She states that there are problems with the five R’s of OER when it comes to Indigenous knowledges and incorporating them into OER. She states that there are currently no best practices and that these practices should be built based on the localised community that your OER are coming from and the knowledges that are being shared within this OER.

She offers five different Rs when working with Indigenous knowledge.

  • Respect: Respect for Indigenous cultural identity communities and topics when creating OER. That’s also the respect for First Nations voices as well.
  • Relationships: Connecting to the concept of all of our relations and relationships building within communities. So incorporating relationality, Indigenous relationality into OER creation, but also that relationship building aspect when we’re working with communities.
  • Responsibility: Responsibility for the way that we share information. Only publishing in an ethical way and considering ownership protocols and community practices.
  • Reverence: Reverence is respecting the sacred, not sharing sacred knowledge from communities. Respecting what we’re being told and what we’re not being told.  Reverence is legitimising and incorporating Indigenous knowledges into the curriculum or OER only when they make sense. And legitimising First Nations voices as being there as the hierarchy of knowledge is in Indigenous OER.
  • Reciprocity: Reciprocity is giving back. We want to give back to communities, whether that’s giving back our time, or giving back resources. So helping to fund communities in their OER creation, as well as giving back through other capacity-building things in many different ways. Giving back to communities and providing open access to things that they might not have access to.

Critically Reviewing OER through a Decolonised Lens

Learning resources and textbooks often centre the white patriarchal perspective and epistemology and are geared towards “traditional” student populations. Adam et al. (2019) note that “[u]nderlying many OER is the assumption of the universality of knowledge systems (often dictated by hegemonic knowledge groups), without giving relevance to the particular.” When viewed through a decolonising lens, the equity and accessibility of such OER begins to fall apart. How equitable is it, for example, to ask students in an Australian history course to engage with an open textbook that perpetuates the white patriarchal narrative of Australian history? For marginalised students in any course, how equitable is it to ask them to engage with open textbooks that potentially centre the perspectives of their oppressors? It is a barrier to student success when students don’t see themselves represented in their educational curriculum. How accessible is it, then, to force marginalised students to engage with open materials that don’t reflect their experiences, their communities, and their epistemologies?

The discussion around how OER foster accessibility and equity should not stop at the reduction of financial cost to students. To avoid perpetuating the systemic inequity it aims to combat, OER must be continuously critiqued through a decolonised lens to ensure students are engaging with educational materials that are equitable in both cost and content. When we implement OER, we must continuously ask ourselves “whose knowledge is being foregrounded and whose view of reality is being entrenched” in these materials (Adam et al. 2019)? If decolonisation is not foundational to OER implementation, the OER initiative betrays its own philosophy. How do we as educators balance the affordability of OER with the imperative to decolonise our curriculum in ways that OER do not always allow?

Indigenising OER

Indigenising OER is not about adding content related to Indigenous history or culture; it’s about shifting to an approach that incorporates Indigenous worldviews, including Indigenous pedagogies and approaches to knowledge. In this section, we explore how the complex sources of Indigenous knowledge can contribute to curricula.

Use Authentic Resources

An important consideration is how to recognise authentic First Nations resources. In some cases, resources dealing with First Nations content may contain inaccurate information or unfairly represent the unique experiences and worldviews of Indigenous Peoples. This can promote stereotypes and misunderstanding. In contrast, authentic resources can deepen understanding by bringing Indigenous voices and perspectives into the curriculum.

It is not always easy to identify authentic Indigenous texts. According to the First Nations Education Steering Committee (FNESC, 2016), authentic First Peoples’ texts are historical or contemporary texts that:

  • Present authentic First Peoples’ voices (are created by First Nations Peoples or through the substantial contributions of First Nations Peoples);
  • Depict themes and issues that are important within First Nations Peoples’ cultures (e.g., loss of identity and affirmation of identity, tradition, healing, the role of family, the importance of Elders, connection to the land, the nature and place of spirituality as an aspect of wisdom, the relationships between individual and community, the importance of oral tradition, the experience of colonisation and decolonisation);
  • Incorporate First Nations Peoples’ storytelling techniques and features as applicable (e.g., circular structure, repetition, weaving in of spirituality, humour).

In trying to decide whether a resource is authentic, you may consider:

  • Consulting with the First Nations office at your organisation and/or Elders in your community.
  • Reaching out to other educators who incorporate First Nations resources and content in their classrooms. Ask them how they chose their resources. What factors did they consider?
  • Ensuring that proper Indigenous cultural and intellectual property protocols and copyright have been followed to obtain permission, particularly when using resources found online.

Diversity among First Nations Peoples

When considering integrating Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing pedagogy into your OER, it is critical to keep diversity among Indigenous Peoples in mind. Some things to consider:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples contextualise themselves by ancestral tribal and clan groups, and it is important to acknowledge each individual’s preference.
  • Consider how you can integrate Indigenous knowledge into your OER, in addition to First Nations content and voices.
  • Consider whether you will incorporate concepts from a diversity of Indigenous Peoples, or focus on the local peoples. Depending on the context of the course, either choice may be appropriate.
Acknowledge the traditional lands on which you are situated. If you do not know the area, ask someone who knows or consult the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) map of Indigenous Australia, which provides a detailed representation of language, tribal or nation groups. Acknowledging the traditional lands can be done by anyone. In terms of curriculum development, this practice can also be used in the classroom and taught to students. It is important to note that unless you are Indigenous to that area, you should not “welcome” people to the area – only someone who is originally from the location can do that. Acknowledgement, on the other hand, is a good thing for anyone to do. Please note that the AIATSIS map is not strictly geographically accurate and it may be more appropriate to consult with local communities regarding whose land you are on.

Diversity among forms of Knowledge

In academia, we often think of knowledge as coming from experts in the form of academic papers, presentations, and research results. In Indigenous communities, knowledge comes from many other sources, for example, from the land, from stories, or relationships between people.

Personal Knowledge

Mainstream academic knowledge often strives to be universal and impersonal. The most respected forms of knowledge are generally studies that can be replicated in different localities and cultures, by different researchers. In Indigenous knowledge systems, the knowledge that exists in relationship to specific lands and people is highly valued. In the context of curriculum development, this means creating opportunities for educators and students to share their personal experiences, feelings, and identities as a form of knowledge, and to learn from the experiential knowledge of Indigenous people.

Oral Knowledge

Indigenous cultures have long valued oral language to transfer knowledge, and Indigenous Peoples use a variety of complex practices and protocols to pass along oral histories, such as witnessing ceremonies and potlatches. In Indigenous cultures, community members are often trained from a young age in the skills of oral communication. In the curriculum context, this means considering opportunities for sharing stories, ideas, and experiences orally, rather than through a written assignment or presentation.

Expressions of Knowledge

Stories, dances, songs, and ceremonies are important sources of knowledge in Indigenous cultures. It is important to keep in mind that resources may be non-textual. For example, attending a ceremony or community event could be a learning resource. Exploring the local environment with an Elder could be a resource. Learning respectfully about a piece of artwork (such as a mask, textile, or regalia) could be a resource. Consider including opportunities for learners to experience these expressions of knowledge.

Accurate Presentation of Australian History

An accurate representation of history is important. Talking about ‘when Captain Cook discovered Australia’ is not only insulting to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, it is also incorrect as there is evidence of sophisticated trade between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with Indonesia and earlier contact with Europeans 600 years before Cook. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were here at least 60,000 years before the coming of the Europeans (QUT, 2010). Avoid texts and content that perpetuate historical inaccuracies, or that use euphemisms to describe the treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. For example, the phrase ‘when Aboriginal children were taken in by the church’, hides the fact that force was used in removing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their parents and traditional lands (AHRC, 1997). Additionally, the reference to ancestral beings such as the Rainbow Serpent, or Wandjinas as a characters in ‘fictional’ stories, and myths of legends are minimising and hurtful (Australian Government, 2020).

Good Practice Example – Decolonization and Justice: An Introductory Overview

Book cover for Decolonization and Justice‘Decolonization and Justice: An Introductory Overview’ emerged from the undergraduate students’ final assignment on Advanced Seminar in Criminal Justice at the University of Regina’s Department of Justice Studies, Canada. This book focused on the decolonisation of multiple justice-related areas, such as policing, the court system, prison, restorative justice, and the studies of law and criminology. This is likely one of the few student-led book projects in Canada covering the range of decolonization topics. Ten student authors explored the concept of decolonisation in law, policing, prison, court, mental health, transitional justice and restorative justice.

The chapters in this book are organised under three major thematic areas. The first of these is Decolonization and Post Colonial Criminologies where the authors explore the theoretical aspects of the knowledge tradition and how Indigenous legal traditions play an important role within this tradition. In the second section of the book entitled Emerging Praxes around the Globe, four authors present case studies of innovative and emerging practices of post-colonial criminologies both in post-conflict areas and advanced democracies like Canada. Finally, in the Way Forward section, three chapters touch upon Indigenous self-governance, decolonizing policing and reconstructing Restorative Justice practices.

Although Canadian, this is an exemplar of how students can use OER to critically review issues through a decolonised lens.

Copyright note: This section has been adapted in part from:


I would like to thank Cally Jetta (Lecturer, Indigenous Studies), UniSQ for her expertise and feedback on this chapter.


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Indigenisation, Decolonisation and Cultural Inclusion Copyright © 2022 by University of Southern Queensland is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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