First Torres Strait PhD

Media Release

James Cook University, Cairns

6 May 1998

First Torres Strait PhD

Professor Nakata PhD Graduation

Educators must look beyond the simplistic notions associated with people's differences, and pursue new understandings of Indigenous peoples as they are positioned and re-positioned in the formal schooling process, according to the first Torres Strait Islander to be awarded a PhD in Australia.

Martin Nakata received his PhD at James Cook University's graduation ceremony in Cairns on the weekend (Saturday May 2).  His thesis explored the interface of Western systems of knowledge and Torres Strait Islander positions and experiences.  "I studied the literature produced on Islanders over the last century to learn more about what conditions the possibilities for Islanders. I was looking for a different angle on what constrains things today in the classrooms," he said.

Dr Nakata argues that education departments must listen in a different way to Indigenous communities if they want to achieve better results. "We've moved on from the missionary days and 'rescue' modes but they still need to learn how to open their ears and not their mouths," he said.  "Instead of patronising people because they are different, educators must now learn how to make a difference.  The first step towards this is for them to learn more about how they can not just be advocates of Indigenous peoples but advocates also of Western knowledge systems and conventions."

Dr Nakata now works as a Research Fellow for the University of South Australia in Adelaide.  He hopes to participate more fully and contribute to the developing scholarship in the field of Indigenous education.

More than fifty of Dr Nakata's family and friends joined him in Cairns to celebrate, many travelled from the Torres Strait and around Australia for the ceremony. "Many people gave up a lot to help me along the way, so this is their achievement too — not just mine," he said, "I dearly hope that Indigenous families who have worked tirelessly over the years to support their children's education will take a bit of the glory today, and give themselves a pat on the back."

His message to the young students of today: "Do what you want to do, do it well, and make sure you give it your best shot. Pursue your dreams, yes, but always listen to your mother."