Nepali scholar shares perspectives on recognition of First Nations peoples
Posted: 10 October 2023
On 6 September, Nepali Australia Awards scholar Chanda Devi Sunar participated in a panel discussion hosted by the University of Canberra. The event highlighted international perspectives on the proposal to recognise Australia’s Indigenous people in its constitution through the establishment of a Voice to Parliament. For Chanda, who is studying a Master of Gender Studies at Flinders University with the support of an Australia Awards Scholarship, it was an opportunity to extend herself, build her confidence and engage in an important issue being considered in Australia.
Chanda’s participation arose following an invitation from Professor Maree Meredith, the University of Canberra’s Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous Leadership and proud Bidjara woman, who sought views on the Voice from Australia Awards scholars as emerging leaders from the Indo-Pacific. Amongst the audience at the event were Australia Awards scholars from Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and Sri Lanka and representatives of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Joining Chanda on the panel were Sally Sitou MP, the federal Member of Parliament for Reid, James Blackwell, a Research Fellow in Indigenous Diplomacy at the ANU’s Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, and Mijica Lus, ACT Young Australian of the Year. The discussion was facilitated by Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow at the University of Canberra.
For Chanda, who is studying a Master of Gender Studies at Flinders University, it was an opportunity to extend herself, build her confidence and engage in an important issue being considered in Australia.
In sharing with the audience her perspectives on recognition of Indigenous people, Chanda drew on her experiences in Nepal. “I belong to a marginalised community, the Dalits, discriminated on the basis of caste,” she said. “When I came here, and I studied their [Australia’s Indigenous people’s] struggles I felt connected.” Chanda reflected on Nepal’s efforts to ensure that marginalised communities were acknowledged and able to participate in policymaking through a reservation quota system. “Once only privileged caste people were seen everywhere in the state apparatus, in the government and private sector… However, when reservation came [into effect] it was a change. We see diversity, inclusion everywhere [now]. It gives us a sense of ownership.”
In the panel discussion, Chanda reflected on her experience learning about the history of First Nations Australians. “One of our courses was about race and colonialism. At that time, it was quite overwhelming for me knowing about the stolen generation, their struggles. When I was back in Nepal, honestly, I didn’t know about Aboriginal people and Indigenous culture here. When we think of Australians, we only think about white Australians,” Chanda said. “We live on this land. We shouldn’t forget who the traditional owners are.”
Chanda’s participation was supported by Australia Awards as one of several initiatives to assist scholars to build their presentation and leadership skills and enhance their networks in Australia.
A recording of the event can be found here.