Deakin students and staff hold design discussions in a winter wonderland

Seven indigenous Australian students from Deakin’s Institute of Koorie Education recently made the journey of a lifetime to participate in a global discussion on design and indigenous culture.

With events in Denmark, Sweden and far-flung Greenland, Was.Is.Always Indigenous Design: South to North brought together academics, students and design practitioners to share in a discussion around the prospect of an International Indigenous Design Charter. Drawing on the Australian Indigenous Design Charter, the workshops raised challenging questions around the custodianship of imagery, the power and value of symbols, and the role of design in preserving the culture and heritage of Indigenous people.

The Deakin group, led by Prof. Brian Martin, Dr Meghan Kelly and Dr Russell Kennedy, spent ten days in the cold north over November, moving between workshops in Greenland, Denmark, and Sweden.

It was a time of new ideas and experiences. For many, it was the first time they had shared in a discussion around culture and design, identity and displacement. It was a first time for comparing notes on histories; some similar, some vastly different. For the seven students from the Institute of Koorie Education, the November trip was a first of many feats, and here are just a few of those more noteworthy:

First Torres Strait Islanders on Greenland?

It was collectively agreed among the Deakin group that two students, Michael Nona and Taicee Pearson (in photo below), were the first Torres Strait Islanders to set foot on Greenland. As they both elbowed their way onto the airbridge, it’s not clear who made it first, but both have agreed to share in the victory. Their claim to this status may be disproved but good luck to those who take them on.

Michael Nona and Taicee Pearson

First experience of snow

Deakin Insurance Office, look away. This group did more than build snowmen. They sledded, snowboarded, essentially snow-parkoured their way through the streets and parks of Roskilde, Denmark.

Snow play in Roskilde


Meeting with an Ambassador

We are not talking handshakes and formalities over a cup of tea. The group spent an entire day trekking the Greenlandic coastline with Mr Damien Miller, Australian Ambassador to Denmark, Norway and Iceland, as well as Australia’s first Indigenous head of an overseas mission. Ambassador Miller also joined the group for dinner on the first night, and opened the workshop at the University of Greenland the next day.

Ambassador in Greenland with students and staff

Meeting with the unique and brilliant Inuit tattooist, Maya Jacobsen

Thankfully for the program leaders, the students resisted the strong urge to add ink to their bodies after meeting the amazing Maya Sialuk Jacobsen. Maya is a Greenlander and currently an Artist in Residence at the Anchorage Museum Polar Lab in Alaska. She’s one of two artists working on a project called Tupik Mi, aimed at reinstating the cultural practice of tattooing amongst Inuit women. Their journey is now being filmed under the auspices of the Sundance Native American Filmmakers Fellowship.

Maya Jacobsen at KEA

Meetings with prominent Greenlandic and Sami designers

The group were presented with the work of some of the most prominent and upcoming designers in the Nordic and Artic region. Artists such as:

Bibi Chemnitz

Inuk Design

Aviaaja Burkal

Karine Pedersen

Malise Porsanger

They met prominent Sami academic, Prof. Henning Johansson:

Prof. Johansson, former Dean at Jonkoping University, travelled down from Stockholm especially to meet the group in Jonkoping and provide an insightful lecture on the history of Sami people. While there, the group mixed with students and staff at Jonkoping University and experienced their first Fika (a Swedish coffee and pastry tradition).

Signing of an MOU with the International Council of Design to host the International Indigenous Design Network (INDIGO).

On the final night at Greenlandic House in Copenhagen, a Memorandum of Understanding was signed between the International Council of Design (Ico-D) and Deakin University, for Deakin to host INDIGO. INDIGO is an open platform that connects designers worldwide in an effort to explore understanding of Indigenous design. It provides an online forum for sharing ideas and information, fostering discourse among participants, and contributing to the furtherance of Indigenous and local design.

New professional and social networks connecting south to north

The Deakin students and staff were warmly received by all they came across, and made many new friends and connections on their travels. They were commended by the academic staff – and many others – for their leadership, engagement in the workshops, positivity and openness to new experiences and cultures. They were true global citizens and great ambassadors for Deakin and Australia.

Deakin visual art student Elly Chatfield, who was also Master of Ceremonies at two of the workshops, commented: ‘The study tour was simply amazing and I find myself living through the thousands of memories that we created while overseas. I loved the varied landscape, the different temperatures, time zones, the friendly and patient people, the tourist destinations and land marks, art galleries, museums and the list goes on. It was a life-changing trip and I will literally never be same again – in a good way.’

Deakin wishes to thank the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Cultural Diplomacy Grant for supporting this initiative.

Written by Ursula Lorentzen. Ursula is the Deakin University International Manager for Europe.


To learn more about Deakin University and opportunities for international students, visit the Deakin International webpage or ask a question below.

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