What 'In My Blood It Runs' Teaches Us About Culture and Education
Above: Dujuan Hoosan, the Lead and Collaborating Director of the documentary.
In My Blood It Runs is a 2019 observational feature documentary following the journey of 10 year old Dujuan. Shot in Mparntwe (Alice Springs), the documentary explores the various forms of structural inequality experienced by Indigenous Australians due to the inability of the current education system to accommodate First Nations cultures. Dujuan is not only a school student and energetic pre-teen, he is also a child-healer and follower of long-standing Arrernte customs. The documentary features interviews with Dujuan himself, as well as his mother and grandmother, who emphasise the importance of passing on Arrernte culture to the next generation.
Central to IMBIR is the tension between the Western education system and Arrernte culture, which, as a meaningful and insightful connection to the land, holds a deep place in Dujuan’s heart. This contradiction is highlighted through the juxtaposing shots of Dujuan seated in a crowded indoor classroom versus him enjoying exploring the awe-inspiring landscape of Alice Springs. While Dujuan struggles to focus in his local school, which follows the rigid structures of Western standardised education, he truly flourishes when practicing his healing powers. It’s clear that he has profound respect for learning about Arrernte traditions, as evident by his enthusiasm for healing family members and learning the language.
With Dujuan being labelled as a disobedient student by his school, IMBIR raises questions about the learning environment of Western style education, and how it might negatively impact Indigenous Australian students. In one particularly memorable scene, a teacher at his school reads a picture book based on Australian First Nations interpretations of the creation of the world. Dujuan, who is deeply immersed in the book, becomes understandably frustrated when the teacher ridicules spiritual aspects of the Dreaming that deviate from standard Western cosmology. This scene exposes the curriculum’s tokenization of Indigenous culture, as exemplified by non-Indigenous staff teaching First Nations culture incorrectly in the presence of First Nations students, while raising pertinent questions about the quality of cultural awareness training provided to educators. IMBIR thus highlights how Western education, with all its rigidity and exclusionary perspectives, is imposed on Indigenous children such as Dujuan with minimal consideration of their own cultural beliefs.
It’s hard to watch such a bright and energetic child repeatedly excluded from class, especially when his enthusiasm for learning Arrernte culture shows him to be a conscientious and dedicated student. Later in the documentary, for example, Dujuan changes school only to be reprimanded, and then expelled, much to the dismay of his concerned family members, who want him to experience both Western education and traditional Arrernte culture.
IMBIR also touches upon the discriminatory arrest and institutionalisation of First Nations youth, with Dujuan receiving numerous warnings from the police after being found hanging around in public spaces at night. For this reason, his family express concern that Dujuan might be arrested and incarcerated in juvenile detention. At one point, Dujuan watches a news video of officers violently mistreating a young inmate. For viewers it’s hard to watch this level of violence committed by adults towards a teenager, but it’s absolutely necessary in order to recognise the unjust power dynamic between the police force, the education system, and more broadly, the Australian state, towards Indigenous Australians. For Dujuan, a young First Nations boy living in a disadvantaged part of rural Australia with high rates of unjust incarceration, the videos are deeply disturbing. He expresses disbelief at the brutal violence and conformity imposed by the police, and questions how the abuse of juvenile delinquents goes largely unnoticed.
Without spoiling too much, I’m happy to say Dujuan’s life takes a positive turn towards the end of the documentary. After becoming engrossed in the nuances of his personality and situation, it’s a relief to see him find happiness and security through connecting with the traditions of his elders. As a non-Indigenous person IMBIR opened my eyes to the inherent inequality of the Australian education system, in particular its role in promoting and normalising Eurocentric narratives, in spite of, as well as in violent opposition to First Nations peoples.
Importantly, IMBIR was made in close relationship with Arrernte elders and First Nations partners. The documentary also has an adjacent impact campaign, which focuses on addressing structural racism and fundamentally changing the Australian education system to improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. I strongly recommend watching the documentary as well as reading about the key messages and goals of the filmmakers. The IMBIR website also lists a number of petitions addressing education and juvenile justice reform.
Another important message from the documentary is the need for a new kind of education system. The IMBIR website features information about the potential of a First Nations led Education System, which would see “the design of a world-class education approach that privileges language, culture and identity owned and delivered by First Nations people for First Nations children.”
Central to this concept is the fact that there is “a deep system of intergenerational learning that exists within First Nations communities: one in which everything is connected – education, health, country, culture, kinship and law.” This kind of system is about respecting the traditions and customs of First Nations people, and ensuring they are able to teach future generations according to the traditions of their culture. As seen in Dujuan’s journey, this approach sees the best outcomes for Indigenous youth, while also strengthening the bonds of local families and communities.
At Nhuubala Yugal Education Centre, we place an emphasis on community, culture and connection. Many of our students in Moree have similar experiences to Dujuan, face difficult cycles of school suspension, and subsequently feel disengaged with their education. Our after school Tutoring Centre, just one of our many programs, provides students with healthy food, emotional support and lots of positive encouragement to help them achieve their dreams.
With our education system as it is currently, organisations such as NYEC are absolutely necessary to make sure that young people can experience education in a way that is respectful and accommodating of their culture.
You can help us keep our Centre running by making a small donation, as well as by supporting us on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter. With your support, education can become more accessible for First Nations students in Australia, and our students in Moree can have an improved chance at achieving their dreams.
Words by Shinae Taylor