I have continued to be inspired by Judy’s work and writings, along with those of her daughter Carlie. I still have not had the pleasure of meeting these special ladies, but we maintain contact by email, facebook and sometimes phone.
Judy recently sent me a copy of an article she had previously written that I had not seen. I found the article to be fascinating and asked Judy if I could put it up on Sharing Culture. She agreed.
I’ve broken up the article into parts, which you will be able to follow on my blog over the next few days. [I’ve also broken up some of the longer paragraphs to make it easier to read in this web format] I’ve also included a copy of a pdf document if you want to read the article all in one sitting. So without further ado, here is Part 1.
This is both an inner story and an outer journey. My work over the last twenty-five years, at the community level, into higher degree studies, and as Head of College and Professor of Indigenous Australian Studies at an Australian university, has had a primary focus on violence and its relational historical, social and cultural trauma.
The word healing entered my vocabulary after on-going discussions with Aboriginal[i] Australian peoples, my countrymen and women, who used the word with a sense of longing, and a felt and expressed distressed necessity, in their lives; and at the international level with other Indigenous scholars and peoples.
So when I am asked what my scholarly discipline is, my answer is ‘violence - trauma - healing’. And therein is the problem. By its very nature this work is inter and multi-disciplinary. I do not fit into any particular disciplinary box within universities.
This story will explore the journey that took me into and out of the academy, as I struggled to negotiate a place for Indigenous worldviews and pedagogical practice, within a space that was, and continues to be controlled by a dominance that, too often, believes in its own superiority. In an attempt to create safe places of learning and healing, within academic space - I often found a continuation of colonial systems of power, perpetrated by the very institution(s) in which I was working.
Underpinning all of this has been the deep struggle within myself, the choices I had to make each day - the path - or trail - I choose to follow, aware that finding my knowing, depended on walking that path with clear intent.
This then, is a story of a personal struggle between two worlds, while attempting to maintain the professional integrity of applied scholarship.
The journey - a beginning
‘When you see a new trail, or a footprint you do not know, follow it to the point of knowing.’ Uncheedah[ii]
The journey began in September 1987, when an Elder Aboriginal woman took me aside to ask for my help after a small child had been raped.[iii] She and other Elders had been told by authorities that ‘it was cultural’, hence there was nothing they could do.
Our Elder was outraged and distressed. As I understood, no child, under Aboriginal Law would be treated in such a way. In seeking to find why no charges had been laid, as I talked to law enforcement officers, I found at worst, explicit, overt prejudice and racism; and at the least, ill-informed, uneducated, and ignorant attitudes and opinions by those who should have made investigations and laid charges.
As I continued my search, I found troubling statistics around violence against Aboriginal women and children that far outweighed the number of deaths in custody over which a royal commission had been established.
I talked to senior Aboriginal males in the Aboriginal Coordinating Council for whom I worked and was encouraged and supported to follow this request by Elder women and men to ‘do something’. I met with some resistance from a few of our male leaders, for they felt I could be ‘tainting all Aboriginal men with the same brush’, if I followed this path.
There was also much resistance within government circles, for as one senior official said to me: ‘don’t talk about things like that. People will think self-management is not working’.
I choose to walk the path the Elder women asked of me. I began with an expectation that the legal system should have the answers, once it became aware of ‘the problem’; to hope the health system might provide some solutions; to finally, coming to a belief and commitment to education as the most promising way forward.
Hence I followed the pathway of scholarship, not a scholarship that had me locked in a room in a university, but one where I could sit on the ground, listening to and learning from stories of the people who had lived their lives under government policies and controls over an Australian colonial history; who knew their communities, knew the problems and wanted something to happen; and were willing to work to make it happen.
In listening, I also learnt to reflect and think before coming to a deeper understanding, enabling me to choose to advocate and act. The work of my PhD resulted in a thesis.[iv] However it was the communal activities within the fieldwork of my PhD studies which resulted in the richness that kept me on my path.
A series of educational packages embodied within an organisation we called We Al-li, two words from the language of the Woppaburra people of central Queensland. We - fire, and Al-li - water, essential elements for all life, used often in healing ceremonies by Indigenous people; also symbolic of two deep emotions I found present in all with whom I was working – anger and grief.
I found under anger with all its attendant sub-emotions and actions, was grief, an anguish that was layered, unresolved, often depressed or suppressed, and increasingly acted out on self and others. I named what I found, generational trauma, deep hurt that needed healing.
The activities of We Al-li was what we called storywork, sitting together, sharing stories, teaching each other, not just of pain and disorder, but of resilience and creativity, using deep cultural processes in what worked when people made the choice to do something about their lives and change their own circumstances. These were stories that some might call trauma stories, that were held in the mind body spirit, and told in art, dance, song and storytelling.
[i] In this chapter, I refer to the Aboriginal peoples as separate to the Torres Strait Islander Peoples of Australia, as my work has been across the diverse and distinct Aboriginal groups on the Australian mainland. When I use the words Indigenous peoples I am recognising the diversity of Indigenous nations as recognized by the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, at the international level.
[ii] Grandmother of Ohiyesa also known as Charles Eastman, in Eastman, C. (1916) From the Deep Woods to Civilization, Little Brown and Company. P 29 Boston
[iii] Lifting the Blankets - the transgenerational effects of trauma in Indigenous Australia, PhD Queensland University of Technology. Brisbane. P 10
[iv] Published as the book: Trauma Trails - Recreating Song lines- the transgenerational effects of trauma in Indigenous Australia, (2002) Spinifex Press. Melbourne.