The Cultural Interface

Site: USQ OpenDesk
Course: Understanding Australian Aboriginal Educational Contexts
Book: The Cultural Interface
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Date: Wednesday, 20 October 2021, 10:31 AM

1. The Cultural Interface Cover

The Cultural Interface

Image Credit: L. Abawi, Street Art, 29 Neil Street, Toowoomba (Artist: ADNATE)  Creative Commons License 

2. The Cultural Interface

Have you heard the term the cultural interface? Why is the concept important and to whom? Is it possible for different cultures to truly find a safe place for collaboration and the creation of shared understandings? In this section we ask you to:

  • consider commonalities and differences in perspectives and from where diverse perspectives originate and why
  • value the efforts of individuals as they seek greater understanding and alignment of actions to improve outcomes for Aboriginal people

The Cultural Interface

“Indigenous knowledge systems and western knowledge systems work off different theories of knowledge that frame who can be a knower, what can be known, what constitutes knowledge, sources of evidence for constructing knowledge, what constitutes truth, how truth is verified, how evidence becomes truth, how valid inferences are to be drawn, the role of belief in evidence, and related issues” (Gego & Watson-Gegeo, 2001, p. 57, as cited in Nakata, 2007, p. 8)

Story Sharing

Non Verbal

3. Interface Theory

Martin Nakata (2006, p. 272) suggests that “what is needed is consideration of a different conceptualisation of the cross-cultural space, not as a clash of opposites and differences but as a layered and very complex entanglement of concepts, theories and sets of meanings of a knowledge system”. It is important those of us who are non-Indigenous, to carefully consider how we can be a part of the struggle to address the lies and omissions that shape Australian history.

Nakata’s ‘cultural interface’ theory is a model that creates understanding of race struggles “by positing visual spaces (i.e., the spaces where daily life is enacted, e.g. home, school, university, shopping centres) that intersect with theoretical or conceptual spaces (e.g. mind maps, intellectual or emotional ways of understanding)” (McGloin, 2009, p. 39).

Consider Nakata’s (2007, pp. 215-216) following three principles of knowledge production (fundamental to his concept of Indigenous Standpoint Theory) –

  • The ‘cultural interface’ as a contested knowledge space
  • The continuities and discontinuities of Indigenous agency
  • The continual tension that informs and limits what can/cannot be said in the everyday

Consider carefully what it is to have a moral obligation to ‘make a difference’ within the lives of young Australians. Some of these young Australians may identify as Aboriginal or as Torres Strait Islanders, others may identify as Indian or Iranian. We need to find inclusive and productive ways of acknowledging and embracing the rich complexity of such a diverse cultural mix and be consciously aware of the tenacious tentacles of colonialism that still exist.  Our personal and collective practices are key to acknowledging and valuing different knowledge systems.

Nakata, a Torres Strait Islander academic, developed the concept of the Cultural Interface which is also present in Aboriginal Law (8 Ways Wikispace). Yunkaporta, acknowledging the depth and complexity of the interface, conducted additional research and using Nakata’s work created a framework accessible to both indigenous and non-indigenous education contexts. It is through exploring The Cultural Interface Theory and the 8 Ways Pedagogical Framework that we will seek to unpack the practical applications of both these bridges to learning.

Image Credit:, UntitledCreative Commons License

Symbols & ImagesWatch this Vimeo with Megan Cooper unpacking the Cultural Interface concept for pre-service teachers at the University of Southern Queensland. The pinnacle of common ground and innovation is what is often referred to as the Third Cultural Space.

Non Linear

4. Creating the Third Cultural Space

The Third Cultural Space, as explained in the Embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Perspectives in Schools:  A guide for school learning communities (2010), draws on the rich histories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, balanced alongside Western ways.  It is the ‘middle ground’, a new way of learning (Bhahba, 2004; Yunipingu, 1989). It acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have deep cultural world views that differ from those in the Western education system. The first space represents Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing.  The second represents Western ways.  The third cultural space is a place of not knowing, of seeking understanding and of mutual respect.

Image Credit: The State of Queensland, EATSIPS Framework, Indigenous Education - EATSIPS, Creative Commons License

Non Verbal

5. The EATSIPS Framework

As mentioned in the previous Vimeo, in Queensland, as in other Australian states, a lot of work has been done to embed Indigenous perspectives into school practices. 

“The three components of the framework are:

Personal ethos—reflecting on knowledge and understanding of personal histories, attitudes and perceptions, building a sense of self and knowledge and understanding about others and the impact they have on each other; for example, reflecting personally and professionally using a holistic planning and teaching framework

Whole-school ethos—how the school reflects the values of Aboriginal peoples, for example, acknowledgement of country and in the school planning process

Classroom ethos—how teachers use curriculum and pedagogy processes and practices to provide a balanced inclusive curriculum, for example, co-operative planning and yarning circles.”

(Taken directly from the Department of Education and Training’s EATSIPS Framework explanation)


The wheel is representative of how perspectives can be embedded into schools, whilst the spokes themselves represent how and where knowledge frameworks can add value and create shared understandings.

Image Credit: The State of Queensland, EATSIPS Framework, Indigenous Education - EATSIPS, Creative Commons License

Learning Maps

5.1. EATSIPS Considerations

EATSIPS brings a number of significant points and questions to light that have implications at the personal, professional, leadership and organisational levels. Consider the following:

The majority of principals, school leaders and teachers within schools are non-Indigenous, possibly with limited experiences of working with or socialising with Indigenous people.

  • Non-Indigenous perspectives are filtered through Western ways of knowing and doing.
  • The majority of history written about Indigenous peoples has been recorded and researched by non-Indigenous people. 
  • The majority of mainstream media representations of Indigenous peoples are mediated by non-Indigenous people.
  • Most Indigenous education resources and programs existing today have been developed by non-Indigenous people.

6. Personal Histories

Reflecting on your personal knowledge — your history, your beliefs, your attitudes

Consider three distinct areas when reflecting:

  1. the personal histories of Indigenous Australians
  2. the personal histories of the local area
  3. the personal histories of non-Indigenous Australians.
Stephen Hagan
© University of Southern Queensland (USQ)

Deconstruct Reconstruct

Community Links

Why do I hold particular perspectives? 

How were my perspectives formed? 

Who and what influenced these perspectives? 

Where and how do they impact on my work and community? 

Do I need to rethink my position on Aboriginal perspectives?

(Queensland Government, n.d., p. 22)

Story Sharing

7. The 8 Ways

As outlined earlier, the 8 Ways Pedagogy emerged from a research project conducted by Tyson Yunkaporta. Approximately 50 teachers across New South Wales participated between 2007 and 2009. The research was based on Nakata’s concept of the ‘Cultural Interface’ and Yunaporta sought answers to two key questions “How can teachers engage with Aboriginal knowledge?” and “How can teachers use Aboriginal knowledge authentically and productively in schools?”  (Yunkaporta, 2009b, p. 3).

‘Aboriginal culture has not been lost – just disrupted.  Our ways of knowing, being, doing, valuing and learning remain in an ancestral framework of knowledge that is still strong.  Through Indigenous research in western New South Wales, exploring these knowledge systems in land, language, people and the relationships between them, eight ways of learning have been identified’  (Yunkaporta, 2009, p. 2).

The framework encourages learning through culture and not just learning about culture. “The images of the eight ways have been brought together in the diagram ... modelled on a kinship system, to demonstrate that they are not steps to follow, but an interactive process” (Yunkaporta, 2009a, p. 4). This framework comes from a thesis linked to a draft report for NSW’s Department of Education and Training, of which a section is linked here to give some background information and context to the 8 Ways Pedagogies. The 8 Ways explores through various lenses different ways for viewing the world.

7.1. Framework

Adapted from the NSW Department of Education (2017) 8 'Aboriginal' Ways of Learning Framework Creative Commons License

Learning Maps Watch this Vimeo with Megan Cooper where she talks about applying the 8 Ways by thinking differently about our spaces and places and then her final presentation around the implementation of 8 ways in your work.

7.2. How we learn

The culture way -

The information below (copied from the now decommissioned 8 Ways Wiki space) is an easy reference point.
1. We connect through the stories we share.
2. We picture our pathways of knowledge.
3. We see, think, act, make and share without words.
4. We keep and share knowledge with art and objects.
5. We work with lessons from land and nature.
6. We put different ideas together and create new knowledge.
7. We work from wholes to parts, watching and then doing.
8. We bring new knowledge home to help our mob.

The joining lines are as important as the pedagogies themselves. Values, protocols, systems and processes refer to the ways of valuing (axiology), ways of being (ontology - protocols and rules for how to be), ways of knowing (epistemology) and ways of doing (methodology). When you engage with Indigenous communities at this level, you truly have the potential to embed broad and deep Indigenous perspectives.

7.3. Symbolism

Adapted from Yunkaporta (2009, pp. 4- 7)

Symbols & Images

7.4. Learning with 8 Ways

8. References

  1. Bhabha, H. K. (2004). The location of culture 2nd Edition. New York, NY: Routledge
  2. McGloin, C. (2009). Considering the work of Martin Nakata's "Cultural Interface": a reflection on Theory and Practice by a Non-Indigenous Academic. The Australian Journal of Indigenous Education38, 36-41.
  3. Nakata, M. (2007). The cultural interface, the Australian Journal of Indigenous Education, 36, 7-14.
  4. Queensland Government (n.d.). Embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Perspectives in Schools (EATSIPS). Available from
  5. Yunkaporta, T. (2009a). Aboriginal pedagogies at the cultural interface. PhD thesis at James Cook University. Department of Education NSW. Retrieved from JCU eprints
  6. Yunkaporta, T. (2009b). Aboriginal pedagogies at the cultural interface. Draft Report for DET on Indigenous research project. Western Region schools.
  7. Yunupingu, M. (1989). Language and power: the Yolŋu rise to power at Yirrkala school. Ngoonjook (September), 1-6.

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