Chris Sarra honoured for work in Indigenous education
Jul 11, 2016 | News | by The Learning Press staff
A champion of quality Indigenous education has won the prestigious Naidoc person of the year award.
Dr Chris Sarra, founder of the Stronger Smarter Institute which promotes higher expectations for Indigenous students throughout Australia, dedicated his award on Friday to children and teachers in remote communities.
In an emotion-charged acceptance speech at the National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (Naidoc) awards in Darwin, Dr Sarra spoke about the children failed by Australia.
“This honour in some ways belongs to our ghost children,” he said.
“Those Aboriginal girls and boys, who chose to die by their own hand, who no longer believed that the future could be better, or that they had a place in it.
“It belongs to Indigenous students rotting in classrooms that no minister or millionaire would send their children to ... to those kids I say this: in more than 500 Stronger Smarter schools nationwide, students just like you are coming to school, staying in school and succeeding.
And you are not forgotten … and we will come for you.”
An outspoken critic of the Noel Peason-backed direct instruction education system employed in select Cape York schools, he nevertheless spoke with optimism about the general trend towards better Indigenous education outcomes.
“This honour in some way belongs to Indigenous parents and communities, across Australia, who are working with schools to deliver on the life-giving promise of a stronger smarter future,” he said.
“It also belongs to more than 2,000 school and community leaders in this education revolution for our children.
“They’ve worked their guts out to deliver what most thought was impossible.
“Your work honours Aboriginal Australia and Torres Strait Islander Australia and the teaching profession. And I salute you for this.”
He challenged local, state and federal governments to ready themselves for a treaty with the nation’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, issuing a rallying call for Indigenous pride.
“To those of us who feel broken or insufficient, who feel anything but powerful, remember this: of all the billions ever born, it is, we, Australia’s First People, we alone share the blood of the world’s oldest civilisation,” he said.
“And to this end, this note, I have a message for Jack Dempsey, mayor of Bundaberg, to Annastacia Palaszczuk, who is the premier of Queensland, and to Malcolm Turnbull, who will probably be the prime minister of Australia.
“I am a descendant of the Gurang Gurang and Taribilang Bunda people.
“And when you are ready, and when you have the courage and you are bold enough, I am ready on behalf of my people and my people are ready to speak with you about a treaty.”
Dr Sarra grew up in south east Queensland, the youngest of ten children, where he experienced entrenched racism throughout his childhood and student career.
He completed a Master of Education, a PhD in Psychology and an Executive Masters in Public Administration before becoming principal of Cherbourg State School in South East Queensland, which won national acclaim for the success of the flagship Stronger Smarter program.
Ten years on, the program is run in some 500 Australian schools, engaging students, parents, teachers and the wider community in improving educational outcomes for Indigenous children.
That commitment to raised expectations was reflected in Dr Sarra’s speech on Friday, when he told Indigenous Australians:
“We are stronger than we believe. And smarter than we know.
“Solidly anchored by an honourable past…we can take our place in an honourable future.
We have survived - and now we must thrive.”