THE first school in Australia to teach in an Indigenous language was set up by German missionaries in Adelaide in 1838 with the support of the governor, George Gawler. More schools teaching in the local Kaurna language opened in and around Adelaide during the 1840s, but this innovative education program was short-lived. Gawler’s successor, George Grey, who was much less sympathetic to the missionaries’ approach, closed some of the schools and directed the others to teach in English instead. Since those early experiments, First Australians’ right to educate their children in their own languages has depended on the political mood and the goodwill of those in power, rather than on recognition in law, as is the case in New Zealand.A new federal parliamentary report, Our Land, Our Languages, proposes a major shift in the way the nation understands and recognises Indigenous languages. “I say to all Australians, take pride in the Indigenous languages of our nation,” said Labor MP Shayne Neumann, who chaired the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs committee’s inquiry, when he released its report last week. “Indigenous languages bring with them rich cultural heritage, knowledge and a spiritual connection to the land.” The committee’s recommendations signal an encouraging shift in attitudes, but history and contemporary politics suggest that transforming them into statutory recognition and policy action will be a challenge.