Aboriginal activist educator Margaret Valadian

MA in education ’67 Mānoa

Margaret Valadian, headshot

When Margaret Valadian started school, Aborigines weren’t provided opportunities to pursue higher education in Australia, let alone expected to excel academically. But Valadian changed that.

With her own determination and her mother’s encouragement, she became the first Aboriginal woman university graduate in Australia when she received a bachelor of social studies in social work from the University of Queensland in 1966.

As an East-West Center grantee in Hawaiʻi and traveling across the United States to New York, where she earned a master’s in social work, she observed the fervor of the 1960s civil rights movements. She visited a voter registration campaign in the South, minority welfare programs in the East, Midwest and Southwest. She worked summers at a Native American school and attended the Saul Alinsky Institute for Community Development and Highlander Folk School in Alabama.

“It was not until I became involved in other indigenous communities that I saw the need to focus on change as a more appropriate policy and program direction,” she says.

The experiences provided a framework for the customized, non-formal education programs of the Aboriginal Training and Cultural Institute that she founded in Sydney in 1978 to create “a vehicle for bringing change to the lives and aspirations of disadvantaged Aborigines.”

The institute provided participants a sense of self-confidence, purpose and direction and the foundation to pursue their interests. It pioneered development of education and management training so Aboriginals could run community organizations as counselors, youth workers, teaching assistants and health workers.

Valadian went on to work with the University of Wollongong Aboriginal Education Center and to establish the Indigenous Social Development Institute before her recent retirement.

—from East-West Center: Fifty Years, Fifty Stories