Working towards cultural responsiveness and inclusion in Australia: The re-Indigenization of social work education


  • Bindi Bennett Bond University
  • Trevor G Gates Colorado State University and University of the Sunshine Coast


The scope of Australian social work education, training and practice models retain many of the Western components from which they were initially derived. Indigenization is concerned with the use of appropriate First Nation theories and practice methods that can transform the entrenched and sometimes enforced Westernised values, norms, and philosophies.  This paper argues that social work education should prepare social workers to work with ethnic and culturally diverse populations and more safely with Indigenous peoples. The issues and challenges concerned with re-Indigenization and how social work education and practice should adapt are explored.


Ambtman, R., Hudson, S., Hartry, R., & MacKay-Chiddenton, D. (2010). Promoting system-wide cultural competence for serving Aboriginal families and children in a midsized Canadian city. Journal of Ethnic & Cultural Diversity in Social Work, 19(3), 235-251. doi:10.1080/15313204.2010.499328

Australian Association of Social Workers. (2010). Code of Ethics. 12. 12. 19

Australian Association of Social Workers. (2015). Preparing for culturally responsive and inclusive social work practice in Australia: Working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 12.12.19

Australian Human Rights Commission (2020). Identified positions.

Bartlett, C., Marshall, M., & Marshall, A. (2012). Two-Eyed Seeing and other lessons learned within a co-learning journey of bringing together indigenous and mainstream knowledges and ways of knowing. Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, 2(4), 331-340.

Battiste, M. (2002). Indigenous knowledge and pedagogy in First Nations education: A literature review with recommendations.

Beckett, J. (2012). Returned to Sender: Some Predicaments of Re‐indigenisation. Oceania, 82(1), 104–112.

Bender, K., Negi, N., & Fowler, D. N. (2010). Exploring the relationship between self-awareness and student commitment and understanding of culturally responsive social work practice. Journal of Ethnic & Cultural Diversity in Social Work, 19(1), 34-53.doi:10.1080/15313200903531990

Bennett, B. (2019). The importance of Aboriginal history for practitioners. In B. Bennett, & S. Green (Eds.), Our Voices: Aboriginal Social Work (Second Edition) (pp. 3-30). Red Globe Press.

Bennett, B., & Gates, T. G. (2019). Teaching cultural humility for social workers serving LGBTQI Aboriginal communities in Australia. Social Work Education, 38(5), 604-617. doi:10.1080/02615479.2019.1588872

Bennett, B., & Green, S. (2005). Our Voices. Macmillan International Higher Education.

Bhabha, H. (1993). The location of culture. Routledge.

Coalition of Australian Governments. (2019). Closing the Gap Report 2019.;fileType=application%2Fpdf#search=%22publications/tabledpapers/9b213cc4-af31-4c4b-9ae0-7f6ad5981202%22

de Certeau, M. (1984). The practice of everyday life (S. Rendall, Trans.). University of California Press.

Dudgeon, P., & Fielder, J. (2006). Third spaces within tertiary places: Indigenous Australian studies. Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 16(5), 396-409.

Fiedler, L. (2018). Colonial-capitalism and the shrinking possibilities for achieving Aboriginal equality and agency in Australia: a critical study of ‘economic’ strategy for social and political advancement. NEW: Emerging Scholars in Australian Indigenous Studies, 4(1), 33-38.

Fitzpatrick, S. (2018, February 12). Closing the gap: coming to terms with a decade of failure. The Australian. 12. 12.19

Gibson, C., Chatfeild, K., O’Neill-Baker, B., Newman, T., & Steele, A. (2020). Gulburra (to understand): Aboriginal Ability Linker’s person-centred care approach. Disability and Rehabilitation. Advance online publication. doi:10.1080/09638288.2020.1713236

Grant, S. (2017, June 21). A decade on from the NT intervention, the ‘torment of the powerlessness’ lives on. ABC news.

Green, S., & Bennett, B. (2018). Wayanha: A Decolonised Social Work. Australian Social Work, 71(3), 261-264.

Havemann, P. (2005). Denial, modernity and exclusion: indigenous placelessness in Australia. Macquarie Law Journal, 5(2005), 57–80.

Heaney, C. (2019, November 2). Cashless welfare card could unfairly target thousands of Aboriginal people in the NT, Senate committee hears. ABC News.

Holland, A. (2019, November 12). The government’s ‘new page’ on Indigenous policy is actually just more of the same. The Conversation.

Hunt, J. (2017). The Cashless Debit Card Evaluation: does it really prove success?

Johnston, L., Doyle, J., Morgan, B., Atkinson-Briggs, S., Firebrace, B., Marika, M., ... & Rowley, K. (2013). A review of programs that targeted environmental determinants of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 10(8), 3518-3542.

Latimore, J. (2018, August 10). Australia is deplorably racist, as people of colour are reminded when they speak up. The Guardian.

Mackinlay, E., & Barney, K. (2014). Unknown and Unknowing Possibilities: Transformative Learning, Social Justice, and Decolonising Pedagogy in Indigenous Australian Studies. Journal of Transformative Education, 12(1), 54–73.

Markham, F., Jordan, K., & Howard-Wagner, D. (2018). Closing the Gap Refresh: Papering over the gaps or structural reform?. Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research.

McKinley, C. E., Spencer, M. S., Walters, K., & Figley, C. R. (2020). Mental, physical and social dimensions of health equity and wellness among US Indigenous peoples: What is known and next steps. Journal of Ethnic & Cultural Diversity in Social Work. Advance online publication. doi:10.1080/15313204.2020.1770658

Mendes, P. (2005). The history of social work in Australia: A critical literature review. Australian Social Work, 58(2), 121-131.

Message Stick (2010, December 5). Pemulwuy: A War of Two Laws. ABC News.

National Constitutional Convention. (2017). Uluru statement from the heart.

Powell, T., Ross, R., Kickett, D., & Donnelly, J. F. (2014). Red dust healing: acknowledging the past, changing the future. In T. Calma, P. Dudgeon, H. Milroy, & R. Walker (Eds.), Working together: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mental health and well-being principles and practice (Second Edition) (pp. 459-474). Kulunga Research Network.

Schulte, B. (1997). Us/Them. Translation, Transcription and Identity in Post-Colonial Literary Cultures, ed. Gordon Collier. [Cross/Cultures. Readings in Post/Colonial Literatures in English; 6]. (Amsterdam, Atlanta: Editions Rodopi, 1992). xv+ 416 pages, Hb. ISBN 90-5183-394-6. Matatu, 17-18(1), 336-338.

Sheehan, N. (2012, May 23). Stolen Generations Education: Aboriginal Cultural Strengths and Social and Emotional Well Being. Lateral Love.

Sherwood, J., Lighton, S., Dundas, K., French, T., Link-Gordon, D., Smith, K., & Anthony, T. (2015). Who are the Experts Here?: Recognition of Aboriginal women and community workers in research and beyond. AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples, 11(2), 177-190.

Sweeney, A., Filson, B., Kennedy, A., Collinson, L., & Gillard, S. (2018). A paradigm shift: relationships in trauma-informed mental health services. BJPsych Advances, 24(5), 319-333.

Synot, E. (2019, October 30). Ken Wyatt’s proposed ‘voice to government’ marks another failure to hear Indigenous voices. The Conversation.

United Nations. (2007, September 13). United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Wahlquist, C. (2018, February 8). Closing the Gap health goals ‘effectively abandoned’ for political reasons. The Guardian.

Weinberg, M., & Fine, M. (2020). Racisms and microaggressions in social work: the experience of racialized practitioners in Canada. Journal of Ethnic & Cultural Diversity in Social Work. Advance online publication. doi:10.1080/15313204.2020.1839614






First Nations & Indigenous Voices