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Indigenous Cultural Competency: Cultural competency

Why is Indigenous cultural competency important?

Australia is a multicultural nation with a host of races and cultures.

Understanding someone's cultural background is important in creating an individual who is culturally aware.

Engaging in Indigenous cultural competency is important for many reasons. Engagement:

  • helps foster ongoing relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people that is mutually beneficial
  • helps 'close the gap' between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in relation to health, education and employment
  • promotes an environment where Indigenous perspectives are valued
  • encourages people to value diversity by accepting and respecting differences


The Indigenous Cultural Competency (ICC) in Australian Universities Project was a project undertaken by Universities Australia and the Indigenous Higher Education Advisory Council (IHEAC) between 2009-2011.


The main objective of the project was to ..."provide Australian universities with the tools to embed cultural competency at the institutional level so that they are encouraging and supportive environments for Indigenous students and staff, and produce well-rounded graduates with the skills necessary for providing genuinely competent services to the Australian Indigenous community"

Based on this, a National Best Practice Framework for Indigenous Cultural Competency in Australian Universities was founded to help implement Indigenous cultural competency across the entire university sector.

Cultural competence and Indigenous cultural competency....defined

From an individual perspective:

".... Cultural Competence is the ability to identify and challenge one’s own cultural assumptions, values and beliefs. It is about developing empathy and appreciating that there are many different ways of viewing the world, as this is influenced by culture"

"Indigenous cultural competency refers to the ability to understand and value Indigenous perspectives.  It provides the basis upon which Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians may engage positively in a spirit of mutual respect and reconciliation"

From an organisational perspective:

"...Cultural Competence focuses on the attributes of the service provider and service provision and is best viewed as an ongoing process that organisations continue to strive towards"

"Indigenous cultural competence requires an organisational culture which is committed to social justice, human rights and the process of reconciliation through valuing and supporting Indigenous cultures, knowledges and peoples as integral to the core business of the institution. It requires effective and inclusive policies and procedures, monitoring mechanisms and allocation of sufficient resources to foster culturally competent behaviour and practice at all levels of the institution"

Sources:1) Guiding Principles for the Development of Indigenous Cultural Competency in Australian Universities(2011)  

           2) Centre for Cultural Competence Australia

Guiding principles

It is important to have a basic understanding of some of the essential principles of Indigenous cultural competency. These principles are based on the National Best Practice Framework for Indigenous Cultural Competency in Australian Universities and are divided into the five themes above. Listed here (click the tabs) is a short summary of some of the guiding principles or alternatively, view the full report of the Guiding Principles.

  • Indigenous people should be actively involved in university governance and management
  • Encourage senior Indigenous appointments in University governance
  • Include Key Performance Indicators for organisational units and senior staff
  • Create and promote Indigenous education strategies and Reconciliation Action Plans
  • All graduates of Australian universities should be culturally competent
  • Academic staff should be provided training in Indigenous pedagogy
  • Include an Indigenous Australian graduate attribute in course learning outcomes
  • Research conducted should be in a culturally competent way that empowers Indigenous participation and collaboration with Indigenous communities
  • Provide guidelines to ensure research in Indigenous subjects is culturally appropriate
  • Indigenous staff participation should be increased at all appointment levels and academic staff should be appointed in various academic fields 
  • Promote programs that target recruitment of Indigenous staff
  • Provide Indigenous cultural competency training in all staff induction
  • Develop processes to encourage research training for promising Indigenous staff and students
  • Promote an Indigenous higher education workforce strategy
  • Universities should foster collaboration with local Indigenous communities
  • Include the local Indigenous community in university ceremonial activities and promote programs to encourage Indigenous access to these activities
  • Create and promote a central, accessible and up-to-date university website for Indigenous activities
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