My experience as a global (Indigenous) scholar
These studies provided me entry into a university at a level where I could progress study programs, at the under- and postgraduate level, designed, developed and delivered by our own peoples, to respond to these expressed violence- trauma- healing needs. I became linked to other Indigenous scholars at the international level.
Between 2003 and 2008, using We Al-li modules[i] as templates, we crafted documents for academic board, that provided an accredited pathway of study and research scholarship for a Diploma of Community Recovery; an undergraduate degree Trauma and Healing; a Master of Indigenous Studies (wellbeing); and working with scholars from Canada, the USA, and New Zealand, a Professional Doctorate in Indigenous Philosophies.
Apart from our work within Aboriginal Australia, we were invited to deliver the Diploma of Community Recovery in Timor Leste, which we taught bilingually, in Tetum and in English.
In September 2009, the people of Kaugere, a settlement on the edge of Port Moresby, the government centre of Papua New Guinea, invited us to run a five day workshop with a focus on human rights in relationship to family and community violence.
Because there is no school in Kaugere for the children, Peter and Lydia Kailap had established the Children’s University of Music and Arts (CUMA), with volunteer workers using music and art to teach children who are eager to learn. Often the only meal the children received for the day was at the school.
For the five days we were there, the school became an adult learning centre - a ‘university’. Each day 75 men and women, the parents of the children who attended the school, sat together to consider the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child (1956); the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (1948), and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2007) in relationship to the violence they live with on a daily basis.
Starting with what happens to children when they witness and hence experience violence, the men, and the women, at first in separate gender groups, and then together, worked to develop a community development approach to their needs, which could enable healing change to occur within Kaugere, and elsewhere.
As I think back to those five days I witnessed the deepening movement of education to ‘educaring’. In the first round people began to feel safe, so that they could listen and learn together.
Once they felt comfortable, not threatened by what they were learning, they went deeper, inwards, looking at themselves. And in the circular process of listening and learning together, as their voices grew strong and powerful, the sound rose up, and in the process talking became music, shared between them, and with us, the visitors, a social healing. They were talking to each other about issues of violence they had never previously discussed.
On the last day, in what they called a celebration of change, they sang us a farewell song. A young man, Emmanuel Mailau sang his song, ‘Children’. Ceremonies can often be rituals of grieving, and the song ‘Children’ is a lament for the lives of children, crying and dying on the hills around Moresby.
These are human experiences and they validate our humanness. The song, ‘Children’, located us in a place where children see much violence, where children are hungry because their parents have no money to buy food, and where children die early from diseases that are preventable. As Emmanuel says: “I live in a settlement. The song is about all the children that I see everyday living such hard lives of poverty, the orphans that roam the streets in the settlement - it is an emotional song”.
Yet every morning in Kaugere we also heard the voices of children who attend CUMA, singing their joyful morning songs, showing that while violence in its varied shapeshifting forms is remarkably resilient, so are children, as they reach beyond themselves engaging in celebration - ceremonies of healing, each morning in this small classroom without walls. They taught me what it is to be human.
As I flew out of Papua New Guinea I reflected on the relevancy of education in the lives of children, in the way parents can ‘educare’, teachers can educate, and the responsibility of the academy, institutions of higher learning, to learn how to ‘get it right’ as they graduate the elite of our societies.
I left Papua New Guinea to travel to Timor Leste, to deliver the last unit in the Diploma of Community Recovery. Each day in class we would explore the need for men and women to heal from the multiple human rights violations that have been part of the historical, social and cultural trauma of Timor Leste. There is, within this small island, the world’s youngest democracy, the human will to find a better way to live together, a resonance that rises from working in conflict transformation and peace building, in healing from generational trauma.
‘In Timor’, the students said to me, ‘we must all be responsible for re-building our country. No one person created our violence. We now must find a way to heal, men and women, separately, and together, always placing in the centre of our circle, our children’.
They painted as they talked together in the classroom without walls, a circle dance on canvas, with children surrounded by their families and communities. As I sat back listening and watching them talk and work together, the canvas moved and danced and sang to me. They discussed culture as a changing moving entity, and yet under the intellectual discussions, at their core, they drew on the strength of their resilience and resonance, both separate yet interdependent qualities in the work of community peace building. They taught me, again, what it is to be human.
In Timor Leste, where the film Balibo had just been released, these students were all members of families who have, in various ways, survived the genocide of multiple colonisations and invasions. The students all work with people who have suffered torture trauma. These students inspired me with their capacity to laugh, sing, cry and be heartbreaking real as we went about our studies.
In Timor, with each visit, there is always a celebration - a birth - a marriage - the commemoration of the Santa Cruz massacre this last time. They gather to dance and sing in celebration of their survival, of the great genocide that is their history. Here students asked me, what is the difference between political trauma, historical trauma, social trauma, cultural trauma? Can you explain the differences between loss and grief, victimization, and traumatisation?
Their challenge to me, is my challenge to myself, to get it right, to walk a good path from the community into the academy and back into community, that allows us all to answer those questions well, in the languages we all understand.
Violence displaces people at multiple levels, fracturing our sense of safety in the world. The key to health and being well is both immediate and trans-generational, essentially at the same time, places of learning and spaces for healing. It is also about healing, in education, or ‘educaring’. Education is healing, yet our academy does not yet understand this. The space between continues to be negotiated by our two worlds.
In Aboriginal Australia, in Timor Leste and in Papua New Guinea, as we worked together, we found deeply embedded layered generational trauma, often specific to place and the stories of that place. We found between our peoples and our countries, essential diversity yet important commonalities. The common threads connected us, and the diversity taught us more deeply about our human condition.
We found all of the people who invited us in, responsive to the protocols of dadirri[ii] or other language words with similar meanings: listening to one another in reciprocal relationships; really deep listening and wanting to listening; hearing, listening, learning, feeling, thinking, understanding, knowing, from the heart.[iii]
We worked to create safe places for people to be with each other, to find and tell their trauma stories. Sometimes the feelings were intense and people stayed connected to hear and witness, and to bear witness, to reflect and learn. It was from this we built our educational practice. At that time we did not understand that we were working within a trauma informed educational care and practice, for all our students. We just called it ‘educaring’.
For too many, their stories had become senseless and they felt hopeless to change their lives. The pain felt too great. However in the sharing, as the stories came, helplessness and hopelessness turned to courage and hope as people started to grieve and grow together. These were stories that were not in text books. They were lived experiences.
Often we worked on the ground, on floors, sitting sometimes on cushions, watching as people drew their story maps, their loss history graphs, their trauma grams, and then began to talk, to themselves, and with each other about what they were finding. We provided the researched text that validated what they already knew but were making more explicit in their reflective discussions. People in the university questioned why we did not want lecture theatres. Our students did not need to be lectured at. They provided lessons from life experiences that were not yet written.
We used cultural tools for healing – story, art, music, theatre, dance, always placing the trauma stories of people and place, as the centre-piece of our work. The storytellers were our teachers and we learnt as we listened. These stories were not just about individuals but linked social groups across history and country. The Stories were about the storyteller(s) culture and identity.[iv]
New cultural tools were being developed to meet deepening knowledge about their own lived experiences and needs. We watched people transform their lives, making sense of what had previously been senseless to them, All our work was encompassed within an educational approach that provided personal support while developing strong theory-to-practice professional skills, for healing from trauma.
In the beginning, as our small group in the university worked together to develop our educational packages, we had understood our teaching-learning practice was an Indigenous pedagogy, influenced by the work of Paulo Freire and derived from Indigenous worldviews. One of our colleagues defined the basis of Indigenous philosophies and educational strategies as:
the underlying principles of relationships and balance…the individual is required to develop to the full, those personal attributes that can enhance the life of the group. Learning is very much a process of experiencing, of watching patiently and quietly, and of absorbing. Learning is a life-long process, which takes place formally and informally. As people become increasingly knowledgeable, and assert their knowledge, they also become increasingly responsible for teaching the new generation who will take over from them. In an Indigenous educational environment this 'sharing of knowing' is made possible through the literature of Orality, Iconography and Ritual: of narrative, song, symbol, dance and drama. [v]
Ours was a person centred approach, and we began to formally refer to our work as Edu-caring, an integrated education/healing model asserting that those who came together had much to teach each other … exemplifying the true meaning of the Latin term ‘educare’: to lead out from, to show the way, under principles of teaching and learning reciprocity.[vi] This ‘educaring’ approach honours an Indigenous Pedagogy and concentrates on the notion that healing is educational, and education can be healing.
We believe that personal and professional development is interrelated and interdependent and the nexus between the personal and professional is crucial. For example, Indigenous approaches to education place a strong emphasis on enhancing self and community learning, in much reflective practice and critical discussion. It is the process of becoming aware of self and others, which underpins purposeful personal development and healing as a cornerstone to education, training and skill enhancement. Just as we now understood trauma to be generational in many Aboriginal lives, we articulated learning as a transgenerational process of experiencing, absorbing and sharing of knowing a generational healing.
In Indigenous education, the process of identifying ‘who am’ and ‘how I relate to the world’ is of paramount importance and considered the starting point for learning. The emphasis in the first instance is on what is happening for me ‘in here’ rather than on an objective analysis of what is happening in the world ‘out there’.[vii]
[i] The We Al-li modules were: Dadirri Aboriginal cultural and spiritual identity; Recreating the Circle of Wellbeing; Indigenous Counsellor Training; Trauma and Recovery; Loss and Grief group healing; Family Violence – Recovery; Positive Parenting; The Prun Managing Conflict; Working with Children prevention and healing from trauma; Working with Adolescents – suicide prevention and intervention; Addictions violence and spirituality; Men and Women’s Healing Recovery, and a double weighted Indigenous Research Theory and Practice unit.
[ii] Dadirri Listening to one another – Miriam Rose Ungunmerr of the Ngagikurungkurr peoples of what is now called the Daly River in the Northern Territory, Australia.
[iii] Ngagikurungkurr - dadirri - listening to one another in contemplative - reciprocal relationships: Pitjantjatjara kulini (listening), or pulgkara kulin tjugku (really (deep) listening, and wanting to listen): Bundjalung - gan’na hearing, listening, feeling, thinking, understanding: Gunmbayngirr - junga-ngarraanga miinggi - hearing, learning, understanding, knowing from the heart.
[iv] Mollica, Richard (2006) Healing Invisible Wounds – Paths to Hope and Recovery in a Violent World. Vanderbilt Uni Press. Nashville.
[v] Townsend-Cross, M. (2003). Respecting Children in Education, Keynote address at Our Children The Future Conference, 1–4 May. p. 4).
[vi] Atkinson, J. 2003 - Atkinson J. (2005). Trauma, Trauma Recovery & Healing, Gnibi, Lismore, NSW.
[vii] Townsend-Cross, M. (2003). Respecting Children in Education, Keynote address at Our Children The Future Conference, 1–4 May. p 5).