Glossary of Terms

This glossary explains some of the terms used throughout the exemplars. It is provided in the hope that it will be helpful for people new to the field of Indigenous teaching. Whenever possible the definitions and information have been taken directly from ‘official’ websites. As some of the material here is subject to differing interpretations, and some information will get out of date, I welcome your feedback and suggestions:


Aboriginal Education Officers

Aboriginal Education Officers play a key role in promoting knowledge and understanding of Indigenous Australian history, language and culture in New South Wales schools. In Victoria, the same role is played by 'Koori Educators', while other states use different titles, such as ' Aboriginal and Islander Education Officer' in Western Australia. These Indigenous officers help teaching staff in the preparation of teaching materials and with general classroom duties, and are important in promoting communication between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, their parents or guardians, the community and the school. 'Indigenous Education Worker' is a term now used in order to be inclusive of all such officers across different states.

Acknowledgement of Country

An "Acknowledgement of Country" can be given by persons of any background. An Acknowledgement of Country is a way of recognising the traditional custodians' ongoing connection with the land, and of respecting Aboriginal culture and heritage. On this website, for example, the following wording is used: "I acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the traditional owners of Australia, and pay my respects to the Elders past and present." For more information see Reconciliation Australia.

A "Welcome to Country" is a formal welcome onto Aboriginal land, given at the opening of a formal event. A Welcome to Country can only be given by a representative - often an Elder - of the local Indigenous custodians of that land, whereas an Acknowledgement of Country can be given by anyone.

ATSI - abbreviation for ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander’

This abbreviation is sometimes used for brevity in official statistics and reports, as well as for course codes in some universities. It is not generally considered appropriate to use 'ATSI' as a way of referring to Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people when speaking or writing.

Block Mode

Many Indigenous-specific programs in Australian universities are run in 'Block Mode'. Block Mode programs combine short, intensive residential periods (blocks) on campus, with extensive periods of study off campus. This is helpful for mature age students, particularly - but not only - those from regional and remote areas and/or those with family and community responsibilities. Aboriginal Education Officers are an example of the kinds of students enrolling in Block Mode courses. Teachers in Block Mode programs are aware that such students may not have high levels of formal academic preparedness. Block Mode is often contrasted with 'Mainstream' courses on-campus, where Indigenous students participate alongside their non-Indigenous peers in the disciplines.

Blue Eyes, Brown Eyes

Jane Elliott, a teacher and diversity trainer in the United States, devised the controversial 'Blue Eyes/Brown Eyes' exercise as a means of combating racism in society. This exercise labels participants as inferior or superior based solely upon the colour of their eyes, and thus exposes them directly to the experience of being a minority. Opinion is divided on the merits of this highly confronting approach.

Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation

The Council was a statutory body established in 1991 to promote a formal process of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The Council was superseded by Reconciliation Australia in 2000.


An Aboriginal (or Torres Strait Islander) Elder is someone who has gained recognition as a custodian of knowledge and lore, and who has permission to disclose knowledge and beliefs. In some instances Aboriginal people above a certain age will refer to themselves as Elders. It is important to understand that, in traditional Aboriginal culture, age alone doesn't necessarily mean that one is recognised as an Elder. Aboriginal people traditionally refer to an Elder as 'Aunty' or 'Uncle'. However, it is recommended that non-Aboriginal people check the appropriateness of their use of these terms. See 'Making Two Worlds Work'.


Given the diversity of Indigenous peoples around the world, the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues has not defined the term 'Indigenous' as such. The UN proposes that Indigenous people are understood to be descendants of those who inhabited a country/region when people of different cultures or ethnic origins arrived; to retain social, cultural, economic and political characteristics; and to define themselves as Indigenous.

In Australia, an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person was defined in a 1983 High Court judgement as a person of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent who identifies as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and is accepted as such by the community in which he or she lives. Further discussion is available from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Indigenous centres

In many parts of this website, references are made to 'Indigenous centres'. Almost every Australian university has at least one specifically Indigenous centre, school, unit, institute etc. The names of such centres vary but they are all set up to support Indigenous students and to foster the valuing of Indigenous knowledges and perspectives across the University. Many centres also supervise and carry out Indigenous research and teach Indigenous curriculum or courses within or beyond the centre itself. Most Block Mode teaching of Indigenous students occurs within such centres.

The mainly Indigenous staff in such centres are very experienced in teaching and supporting Indigenous students. Many are also renowned academic experts in the discipline of Indigenous Studies. As such they are often called upon by non-Indigenous colleagues 'in the mainstream' for advice on issues arising with Indigenous students; input into Indigenous curriculum development; guest lectures on Indigenous topics; and so on.

Indigenous academics are keen to assist in developing the awareness of staff and students across the university in relation to Indigenous issues. However, they are few in number and known to be often overloaded. Teachers new to the field are strongly advised to get to know your colleagues in the Indigenous centres - but also to be aware of their workload issues.

This list provides details of all centres currently identified, although such lists get out of date quickly.

Koori (or Koorie)

Koori is a term denoting an Aboriginal person of southern New South Wales or Victoria. 'Koori' is not a synonym for 'Aboriginal'. There are many other Aboriginal groups across Australia (such as Murri, Noongar, Yolngu) with which Indigenous Australians may identify themselves. Indigenous Australians are highly mobile and one cannot assume that an Aboriginal person who happens to be living in south-east Australia is a Koori. It is often preferable to use more general terms such as 'Aboriginal people' or 'Indigenous Australians'.

Koorie Heritage Trust

The Koorie Heritage Trust is an organisation devoted to the protection, preservation and promotion of the living culture of south-eastern Indigenous people in Australia, and to bridging the cultural gap between the Koorie people and the wider community. The Trust is based in Melbourne and plays an important educational role and provides rich resources for teachers and students, including a research library dating back to the 1800's.


The term 'mainstream' is used in Indigenous education to refer to any on-campus courses or disciplines where Indigenous students participate alongside their non-Indigenous peers, rather than in Indigenous-specific programs such as those provided for 'Block Mode' students. Teachers 'in the mainstream' may not always be aware that they have Indigenous students in their classes.

'Mainstream' is also used in other contexts to draw a contrast with Indigenous-specific systems or progams (such as the Koori Court).


A collective term for the Indigenous people of New Zealand.

Reconciliation Australia

Reconciliation Australia is the body established to provide a continuing national focus for Indigenous and non-Indigenous reconciliation following the end of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation in December 2000.

Stolen Generations

The term 'Stolen Generations' refers to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians who were forcibly removed, as children, from their families and communities by government, welfare or church authorities and placed into institutional care or with non-Indigenous foster families. The forced removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children began as early as the mid 1800s and continued until 1970, and many Indigenous people remain deeply affected by the consequences. The subject is integral to Indigenous curriculum but can evoke emotional responses on the part of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians when raised in class.

For further information on the Stolen Generation and the National Apology see Reconciliation Australia's Reconciliation Australia.

Welcome to Country

See Acknowledgment of Country above.