Sydney Law School appointed land rights lawyer and activist Teela Reid as its first Indigenous Practitioner-in-Residence last month.
A proud Wiradjuri and Wailwan woman, Reid is a Senior Solicitor at Indigenous law firm Chalk & Behrendt and an avid advocate for the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
In her adjunct role as Practitioner-in-Residence, Reid will bridge an academia-practice gap for students and foster stronger connections between the law school and Indigenous communities.
“Teela is there to help decolonise the law school,” said Benjamin McGrory, First Nations Officer for the Sydney University Law Society (SULS).
“She’s there to help educate non-Indigenous lecturers, professors and students about the impacts of colonisation, Indigenous rights and how the Western legal system can co-exist with Indigenous legal systems.”
Alongside Sydney Law School Dean Professor Simon Bronitt, Dr Louise Boon-Kuo and Associate Professor Jacqueline Mowbray, Reid will be part of the school’s Indigenous Strategy and Services Committee. The committee is looking at reforming the law school’s curriculum this year.
Units of study including real property and land law, as well as civil and criminal procedure, are prospective areas for decolonisation and revitalisation through an Indigenous lens, according to McGrory.
This follows the University’s One Sydney, Many People 2021-2024 Strategy, which aims to “facilitate innovative and culturally quality-assured representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledges in curriculum, programs and courses” within the Sydney Law School by 2023.
When asked about the potential claims of tokenism by cynics, McGrory said that the school “genuinely cares” and wants to make “real change”.
“It’s not going to happen overnight, but they are taking practical steps to dismantle colonial systems that exist and the barriers that Indigenous students face when studying law,” he said.
Whilst Indigenous enrolments have seen an increase over the last decade due to initiatives such as Wingara Mura Bunga Barrabugu, the University still has a lower proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students (0.9 per cent) compared to the Australian sector (which averages 1.7 per cent).
Support programs targeted at Indigenous students are key to higher enrolment and retention rates, according to McGrory.
“There needs to be a culture in law school where [Indigenous students] see Indigenous staff and Indigenous leadership, as well as mentoring and well-being programs,” he said.
Reid’s appointment comes at an apt time, following the departure of Murri academic Nicole Watson to UNSW in March 2021.
“Sydney Law School has not had an Indigenous staff member for over a year. Teela is now a role model for all Indigenous students,” McGrory said.
“She’s got ideas to work with the Law School to bring more opportunities to give more opportunities… so that Indigenous students see themselves as being able to practise in the law and make change happen.”
Next month, Reid will be leading a university event on the Uluru Statement from the Heart as well as a workshop for the First Nations Voices Project.
She will also be speaking at the University’s annual Public Lecture on Indigenous Peoples and Law, which seeks to “create a public platform for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander scholars to reflect on the nature of Indigenous laws and legal traditions for a wider audience in Australia and abroad.”
Other future initiatives include a video project commencing in April as well as a social media page to document the work which is happening at the Sydney Law School in line with its Indigenous strategies. Reid also endeavours to start a podcast entitled Blak Letter Law, which focuses on stories of Indigenous advocacy, as an educational resource for students.
Regarding university students themselves, McGrory encourages anyone passionate about Indigenous cultural and social issues to join the SULS First Nations Committee. Committee members will be involved with creating new events, opportunities and wellbeing programs for Indigenous students and allies within Sydney Law School.
“Don’t be afraid, you don’t have to be an expert on matters. All you have to do is have a passion for social justice and helping Indigenous people,” he said.
Applications are now open to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.
“Get involved, we want you to be involved, and we welcome everyone.”
If you are interested in applying for the SULS First Nations Committee, please contact Benjamin McGrory at email@example.com.