In an era where higher education institutions appear increasingly committed to what Sara Ahmed calls ‘speech acts’ whereby declared goodwill, through stated commitments to diversity, equity, and increasing Indigenous student enrolment and completion have been made; it is undeniable that Indigenous academics are in high demand. With fewer than 430 Indigenous academics currently employed here on the continent now commonly referred to as ‘Australia’, and 69% of that cohort identifying as female, what does it look like to experience this demand as an Indigenous academic woman? Drawing on data collected from a Nation-wide study in 2019 of 17 one-on-one, face-to-face interviews with Indigenous academic women, using Indigenous research methodologies and poetic transcription, this paper explores the experiences and relational aspects of Indigenous academic women’s roles in Australian higher education.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
The existing employment data from many universities does not allow for academics to formally identify outside of the Eurocentric gender binary of ‘male’ and ‘female’. As such, while this table does accurately capture the number of Indigenous staff, it does not necessarily represent a true scale of gender diversity across Indigenous academics in Australia. It is important to note that within this study, participants who ‘identify as female’ were invited to participate, reflecting their identified gender rather than the gender assigned to them at birth.
The term ‘participants’ has been placed in quotations, as Indigenous people on this continent have never ceded sovereignty, are structurally oppressed by systems built on the theft of Indigenous lands, children, and labour, and thus more likely to rely on social security schemes to survive, and in this way participation in the CDP as a scheme is not truly voluntary.
Ahmed, S. (2006). The nonperformity of Antiracism. Meridians: Feminisim, Race, Transnationalism, 104–126.
Andrews, K. (2014). From the ‘Bad Nigger’ to the ‘Good Nigga’: An unintended legacy of the Black Power movement. Race & Class, 55(3), 22–35.
Asmar, C., & Page, S. (2009). Sources of satisfaction and stress among Indigenous academic teachers: Findings from a national Australian study. Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 29(3), 387–401.
Australian Bureau of Statistics. (2016). 2016 census: Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples. Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Bartlett, F. (1999). Clean white girls: Assimilation and women's work. Hecate, 25(1), 10–38.
Behrendt, L. (2019). Indigenous storytelling. In J.-A. Archibald, Q. Xiiem, J. Lee-Morgan, & J. De Santolo (Eds.), Decolonizing research: Indigenous storywork as methodology. London: Zed books.
Behrendt, L., Larkin, S., Griew, R., & Kelly, P. (2012). Review of higher education access and outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People final report. Australian Government.
Bodkin-Andrew, G., & Carlson, B. (2016). The legacy of racism and Indigenous Australian identity within education. Race Ethnicity and Education, 19(4), 784–807.
Crenshaw, K. (1991). Mapping the margins: Intersectionality, identity politics, and violence against women of color. Stanford Law Review, 43, 1241–1300.
Coates, H., & Krause, K.-L. (2005). Investigating ten years of equity policy in Australian Higher Education. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 27(1), 35–46.
Coates, S. K., Trudgett, M., & Page, S. (2019). Indigenous higher education sector: The evolution of recognised Indigenous Leaders within Australian Universities. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education.
Day, A., Nakata, V., Nakata, M., & Martin, G. (2015). Indigenous Students' persistence in higher education in Australia: Contextualising models of change from psychology to understand and aid students' practices at a cultural interface. Higher Education Research and Development, 34(3), 501–512.
Department of Education and Training. (2017). Indigenous Higher Education staff data. Special request data spreadsheet. Canberra: Department of Education and Training.
Department of Education and Training. (2018). Higher Education Institutions in Australia—full time and full time fractional employment contracts for non-indigenous staff (n=121,718). Canberra: Department of Education and Training.
Donovan, M. (2015). Aboriginal student stories, the missing voice to guide us towards change. The Australian Educational Researcher, 42(5), 613–625.
Fredericks, B., Mills, K., & White, N. (2014). 'I now know I can do this now': Indigenous women and writing in the Australian higher education sector. Text Journal., 18(1), 1–11.
Glesne, C. (1997). That rare feeling: Re-presenting research through poetic transcription. Qualitative Inquiry, 3(2), 202–221.
Gray, J., & Beresford, Q. (2008). A 'formidable challenge': Australia's quest for equity in Indigenous education. Australian Journal of Education, 52(2), 197–223.
Green, S., Russ-Smith, J., & Tynan, L. (2018). Claiming the space, creating the future. Australian Journal of Education, 62(3), 256–265.
Gruppetta, M., Southgate, E., Ober, R., Cameron, L., Fischetti, J., Thunig, A., et al. (2018). Yarning the way. Newcastle: University of Newcastle.
Indigenous Higher Education Advisory Council. (2011). National Indigenous Higher Education workforce strategy. Canberra: Australian Capital Territory: Australian Government.
Jones, T., Takayama, K., Nye, G., Carter, K., Landrigan, B., Bennell, D., et al. (2016). Improving services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander teachers. New York: Nova.
Kovach, M. (2010). Conversational method in Indigenous research. First Peoples Child and Family Review, 5(1), 40–48.
Leonardo, Z. (2013). The color of supremacy: Beyond the discourse of ‘white privilege’. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 36(2), 137–152.
Lindberg, T. (2015). On indigenous academia. In D. Lund (Ed.), Revisiting the Great White North: Reframing whiteness, privilege, and identity in education (pp. 71–87). Canada: Sense Publishers.
Moreton-Robinson, A. (1998). When the Object Speaks, A Postcolonial Encounter: anthropological representations and Aboriginal women's self-presentations. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 19(3), 274–279.
Moreton-Robinson, A. (2000). Talkin' Up To the White Woman. St Lucia: University of Queensland Press.
Moreton-Robinson, A. (2013). Towards an Australian indigenous women's standpoint theory. Australian Feminist Studies, 28(78), 331–347.
Moreton-Robinson, A. (2015). The white possessive: Property, power and indigenous sovereignty. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Porsanger, J. (2004). An essay about indigenous methodology. Nordlit, 15, 105–120.
Prout Quicke, S., & Biddle, N. (2017). School (non)-attendance and 'mobile cultures': Theoretical and empirical insights from Indigenous Australia. Race Ethnicity and Education, 20(1), 57–71.
Rigney, L. (1999). Internationalisation of an Indigenous anti-colonial cultural critique of research methodologies: A guide to Indigenist research methodology and its principles. Wicazo sa Review, 14(2), 109–121.
Smith, J. A., Trinidad, S., & Larkin, S. (2015). Participation in higher education in Australia among under-represented groups: What can we learn from the Higher Education Participation Program to better support Indigenous learners. Learning Communities: Indigenous Pathways and Transitions into Higher Education, 17, 12–28.
Trudgett, M., Page, S., & Harrison, N. (2016). Brilliant minds: A snapshot of successful Indigenous Australian doctoral students. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education., 45(1), 70.
Tuhiwai-Smith, S. (2012). Decolonising methodologies: Research and indigenous peoples. London: Zed books.
Universities Australia. (2017). Indigenous strategy 2017–2020. Canberra: Australian Capital Territory.
Wilson, S. (2008). Research is ceremony: Indigenous research methods. Black Point, NS: Fernwood Publishing.
White, N. (2000). Creativity is the name of the game. In M. A. Bin-Sallik (Ed.), Aboriginal women by degrees (p. 105). St Lucia: University of Queensland Press.
Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
Thunig, A., Jones, T. ‘Don’t make me play house-n***er’: Indigenous academic women treated as ‘black performer’ within higher education. Aust. Educ. Res. 48, 397–417 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13384-020-00405-9
- Higher education