Indigenous Studies

What is Indigenous Studies?

Indigenous Studies explores the complex relationship between Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples and the knowledge, perspectives and the lived experiences of Indigenous peoples and the effects of colonisation – throughout deep time, pre colonisation and in a contemporary context.

Of particular focus are the traditional understandings and ongoing experiences of the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Indigenous Studies focuses on the continuity of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, knowledge, and customs through time and space.

Indigenous Studies introduces students to the variety of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, as well as their traditional links to country and to one another.

Students pursuing Indigenous Studies will have the opportunity to experience and investigate the ongoing traditional knowledge, language, and economies associated with local geographies, as well as the efforts of current generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to maintain knowledge, cultural practices, and connections to significant places while promoting a thoughtful engagement with knowledge and social systems that have been passed down through generations.

Indigenous Studies involves the appreciation of traditional learning and considers how this can be incorporated into modern discourses – for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples – to foster greater understanding and tolerance.

Comparisons are made between the experiences of Indigenous Australians and that of Indigenous peoples in other colonised nations. Indigenous Studies investigates the many situations in which colonialism happened, the immediate effects on Indigenous people, and the long-term challenges linked with changing government policies and societal viewpoints.

Indigenous Studies explores the growth of a variety of theories and explanatory discourses from Western and Indigenous perspectives across time, as well as how these efforts to understand the Indigenous position and impact policy, public, and political discourse settings.

Students undertaking Indigenous Studies will also be eligible to apply for an optional sponsored study trip to Southeast Asia for a maximum of 20 students, through the New Colombo Plan, to learn about Indigenous peoples in another country.

Indigenous Studies involves a critical engagement with both modern and ongoing systemic issues facing Indigenous peoples. Indigenous Studies examines the complex entanglements of Indigenous and Western systems of thought, knowledge, and standpoints engaged in scholarly efforts to understand Indigenous people's contemporary position and policy and practical efforts to bring about change in Indigenous Australian's lives.

A core aspect of Indigenous Studies is the consideration of actions – past, present, and future.

Indigenous Studies will allow you to examine previous discourse, protest, campaigns and action for the promotion of Indigenous rights. Indigenous Studies presents students with opportunities to link theory to practice through practical engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people(s) or organisations or practical issues in professional contexts providing approaches to real-world applications and opportunities.

Students will navigate the boundaries of Indigenous and Western positions in contemporary spaces, given the problematic body of knowledge which exists. Indigenous Studies subjects bring this learning together to analyse the complexity of contemporary Indigenous positions.

You will also consider how best to move forward and continue to advocate to Close the Gap.

Indigenous Studies is a field that operates across many sectors but is most prominent within the political and community spheres.

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Bachelor of Arts

Actively engage with the history, people and systems within the world's oldest continuous culture through Indigenous Studies.

What do those who major in Indigenous Studies do?

When you major in Indigenous studies, you’ll apply your highly developed communication and interpersonal skills to a wide-ranging field.

Students emerge with an awareness of Indigenous People of Place, People of Knowledge, and People of Science. You will understand the everyday realities, experiences and knowledges that shape and are shaped by Indigenous people, communities and ideas.

You may find yourself liaising with Indigenous communities, providing programs that will assist in improving health, education or social wellbeing outcomes. Every day may be different, as you work on-the-ground and gain a deeper understanding of communities’ and individuals’ daily experiences. An understanding of the factors that facilitate successful Indigenous community-managed programs is important for informing future programs and organisations (Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies [AIATSIS], 2007). You’ll have the skills to engage thoughtfully and respectfully with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and create meaningful connections.

Indigenous Studies is an interdisciplinary topic that aims to provide graduates with a complete and respectful understanding of indigenous cultures. Indigenous Studies majors frequently play a vital role in crafting government policies.

Your understanding of the ongoing legacy of colonial injustice and the challenges posed by previous government programs, as well as your ability to collaborate with non-profit organisations and government agencies to uncover potential forms of discrimination and develop new laws that are inclusive and promote equal opportunity for all.

Indigenous Studies majors may also choose to share their love of learning with others. The deep understanding of Indigenous knowledge, traditions and languages that you develop is highly sort after by all levels of the education system. Engage schools or communities with your cultural awareness and help foster a more tolerant and knowledgeable society.

Businesses are increasingly recognising the need for greater cultural awareness and acceptance in their workplaces. Indigenous Studies builds skills in critical thinking, cultural awareness and communication to prepare you for a range of careers. Your understanding of historical and current Indigenous issues, and respect for Indigenous people’s diverse knowledge and cultural history, could see you advising employees on intercultural understanding, or consulting with businesses about respectful practices around culturally significant Indigenous sites.

There are several chances to help Indigenous communities as cultural and ethnic groups continue to adapt to the intergenerational consequences of colonisation. You might be interacting with elders, campaigning for rights, or delivering crucial services, or possibly find yourself involved in the continuing movement for equal recognition and appropriate human rights. Your desire to see proper Indigenous representation in all aspects of society may lead you to advocate for change at the governmental, commercial, or community levels.

No matter which sector you find yourself in, your commitment to social justice will assist in the ongoing work to promote the concerns of Indigenous peoples from all over the world.

What jobs are there for Indigenous Studies specialists?

As an Indigenous Studies major, you could work in community outreach, government policy, human resources, cultural liaison, education or healthcare.

Indigenous Studies at JCU gives you the practical experience to work with individuals, community groups, organisations or governments.

Those who major in Indigenous Studies have the opportunity to work with some of the world’s oldest living cultural and ethnic groups, in some of the most beautiful environments in the world. You may work in remote places, bustling cities or traditional communities.

There are options to work outdoors and on-the-ground, or within areas such as policy change.

The kinds of jobs you could hold with a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Indigenous Studies from JCU include:

  • Cultural liaison officer
  • Community health liaison
  • Cultural awareness officer
  • Policy advisor
  • Legal advocacy
  • Aid worker
  • Social and community worker
  • Academic researcher
  • Heritage adviser
  • Community educator
  • Data analyst
  • Consultant
  • Indigenous rights activist
  • Motivational speaker.
Preparation for aboriginal body painting
Australian Aboriginal men dancing during a local culture ceremony festival event in the tropical far north of Queensland, Australia

Why study Indigenous Studies at JCU?

When you study Indigenous Studies through a Bachelor of Arts at JCU, not only will you gain the critical thinking and communication skills necessary to engage with Indigenous discourses and policies within Australia and across the world but you will do so from a place that was at the forefront for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the fight for native title. Eddie Koiki Mabo (known as Koiki) had a strong and long-lasting connection with James Cook University - It was here that he began his journey to challenge land ownership laws on Mer (Murray Island) in the Torres Strait

We’ll help you link theory to practice with subjects heavily focused on practical engagement. Your subjects will prioritise real-world scenarios, seminars from respected experts and project-based learning to ensure you develop everything you need to transition from study to the workforce.

Indigenous Studies at JCU will see you frequently offered the opportunity for work experience on country. Here you’ll actively engage with Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and develop a practical understanding of the challenges and concerns of the community.

You’ll also be granted the opportunity to embrace our unique tropical context. With a course dedicated to the history, traditions, experiences and political action of the North Queensland Indigenous peoples, you’ll learn some of Australia’s richest history from experts on your own doorstep.

Interested students are also offered the opportunity for an international field trip. As part of the New Columbo Plan, you could travel to a South-East Asian Indigenous community and reflect on their history, challenges and experiences with colonisation. You’ll compare their traditional understanding of the world around them to that within your own context and gain deeper insights to the global concerns of Indigenous populations.

Our industry links and practical experience opportunities are second to none. Explore your options with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Indigenous Studies at JCU today.

Transferable skills Expand employability opportunities through elevated thinking
Be the solution Become a critical thinker
Highly experienced lecturers Navigate Indigenous – Western knowledge intersections with expert guidance
Rikisha Phineasa.

Rikisha Phineasa


Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Laws, majoring in Indigenous Studies

“The Bachelor of Arts majoring in Indigenous Studies allows me to learn more about Indigenous people and understand the complexities of Indigenous cultures. One highlight of this dual degree is that I get to network and make friends with people in different faculties at JCU and can take the opportunity to explore the different subjects Arts has to offer.”

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