Professor Dennis Foley from the University of Newcastle’s School of Humanities and Social Science has been awarded a 2014 Partnership Development Grant by the Canadian Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council, and was recently in Canada to consult on two projects – introducing Indigenous entrepreneurship in high schools, and looking at strategic alliances between First Nations and industry in the natural resources sector.
Dennis teaches Human Rights, Advocacy and Social Change, Working with Communities and Indigenous Cultural Competencies at the University, is a strong presence within the local Indigenous community and business sector, and he is a sought-after researcher in this field throughout Australia and internationally.
Dennis tells us about his passion for Aboriginal economic development, and some of the more surprising aspects of his work as a researcher.
Tell us about your background, including what drew you into your area of research ?
I was born at St Leonard’s in my mother’s traditional lands, my mother was born in Cessnock and I have many of my family living in and around Newcastle since the early 19th century. I have been here six years and 64 days.
What are you passionate about? Can others in the community get involved?
My passion over the last two decades has been the development of Aboriginal economic development – entrepreneurship and our engagement in the modern economy for we were generally excluded from the colonial and post colonial economies, it wasnt till the Whitlam years that we essentially started to be recognised as citizens, this is my passion to see us develop social capital and human capital to the same levels of the Australian populace.
Do you draw on any people or resources for inspiration?
I draw on many who I see as role models; the late John Budby, the late Charles Perkins, the late Elsa Dixon and the late Uncle Chicka Dixon. I also listen intently to Professor Marcia Langton, Noel Pearce and above all Mr John Moriarty, an Aboriginal entrepreneur who has been a outstanding role model.
Inspiration is gained from almost every interview of an Indigenous person, be they successful or not. One that touched me deeply was an interview with a homeless man living on a snow-covered street, sheltering in a windy bus shelter in downtown Regina only a few weeks ago, then another within days of a First Nations Canadian who with minimal reservation based schooling now successfully runs a multi-million dollar corporation with pinpoint accounting accuracy … these are the people who inspire and drive my studies.
What’s been the most unexpected aspect of your work so far?
Surviving a car bomb in Derry in 2011 after doing a interview with members of the local Traveler community, having a knife poked in my ribs a week later or a handgun placed to the side of my head until I showed my identity as a university researcher and not a media person, also in Ireland.
In 2001 harvesting sea weed in a fish pen with local Hawaiians without knowing a large Tiger shark was also in the same water, until it nudged me. These are some examples of unexpected aspects that ethics forms don’t take into consideration.
What do you hope will be achieved by what you are doing and what did you achieve or realise personally?
In Australia we have pathetically low graduation rates of Aboriginal people in formal management education. We cannot hope to build a stronger economy and manage our resources and land until we have skilled trained people. Maori, First Nations American, Canadian and Pacifica are years ahead of us in formal ‘management – business – economics’ education. If I can stimulate a handful of educated business managers, or successful entrepreneurs then this is my dream. I have already had an impact on government policy so that part of the bucket list has been achieved, however I would like to see more, and achieve more.
What’s been your proudest achievement to date?
My children, their birth, their development. Secondly being the first in my family to obtain a degree then a PhD as it has created a ripple effect with several others following.
Image (supplied): Prof. Dennis Foley meeting on First Nations economic development, inside the First Nations University, Regina, Saskatchewan.
What’s your favourite Newcastle neighbourhood and why?
East Newcastle, the small restaurants, some of its architecture (the modern stuff is ugly), the walks and its closeness to the sea.
Can you name a local hero?
My mother, a Cessnock girl who defied racism and qualified to represent the state in swimming, until they realised she was Aboriginal, and at the age of 15 in the 1930’s getting a job in the gloves and hat section of a major department store.
What do you look forward to doing most in Newcastle in winter?
My open fire.
The breeze and migratory birds in Blackbutt Reserve.
Where and what was the last greatest meal you had in Newcastle?
Chinese New Year, Papillon Restaurant on Darby Street.
Your favourite getaway destination?
Your #1 Newcastle insiders tip?
After washing the clothes, don’t hang your whites out overnight when a nor’easter is blowing – they will be grey in coal dust come daylight!
Image (supplied): Onion Lake Cree Nation – a First Nations band government in Canada.