Sharing Culture argues that wider society must tell and listen to history from an Indigenous perspective in order to facilitate Indigenous healing. Today, few people have an understanding of the conditions that have impacted on Indigenous peoples due to the colonisation process - and still impact today - and how these conditions have helped create who Indigenous peoples are today. A more informed and understanding society will reduce the racism, paternalism and stigma that exists today.
Here is an important passage from the seminal article Historic Trauma and Aboriginal Healing, prepared for the Aboriginal Healing Foundation in Canada by Drs Cynthia C. Wesley-Esquimaux and Magdalena Smolewski.
‘In recent years, an emergence of a relative degree of easing up of the oppressive attitude toward Aboriginal people in Canada has been observed, which has incited the Indigenous population to divert some of their attention away from the struggle for mere survival.
This availability of choices, virtually unknown until now, leads Aboriginal people to ask questions about the existing order of things; to perceive, though still vaguely, a broadening of what is possible and becoming tangible. From this conscious perception of an attainable future comes the energy that will allow Aboriginal people to tear themselves free from the burdensome condition imposed upon them.
They will find, buried deep within themselves, marvels of possibilities, infinite potentialities and, especially, power to shape their own destiny. The embodiment of these aspirations and these empowering energies will be a total and generalized confrontation with their existing social system.
However, their past must first be de-colonized in order for it to become a healing tool and not a devastating, relentless force of destruction.
The first step is re-conceptualization or providing Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people with an alternative construct system for existing observations or experiences. In other words, the general public and, in many instances, Aboriginal people themselves, must be given enough information about their history to recognize the often illogical nature of the convictions some people hold on Indigenous people and an opportunity to revise their beliefs.
In order to change opinions held about Aboriginal people by non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal people alike, a highly coordinated information campaign is needed to publicize accurate, reliable and valid historical facts and bring them to schools, social institutions, mass media and political organizations.
A properly rewritten history of Aboriginal people must be included in the school curriculum. A properly de-colonized account of the Aboriginal people’s suffering must replace falsified images often spread by public media. A properly deconstructed narrative of Aboriginal people’s lives must accompany any social or political action directed at helping those who have been dispossessed and marginalized.
Other processes must be involved as well. Said (1994) once said that the intellectual cannot speak for all humankind, in terms of a claim to be objective or neutral.
In the same way, people who work with, and for, Aboriginal people must ally themselves with the oppressed and non-represented that, according to Said, is an ethical and political commitment. This should be done
“on the basis of universal principles: that all human beings are entitled to expect decent standards of behaviour concerning freedom and justice from worldly powers or nations, and that deliberate or inadvertent violations of these standards need to be testified and fought against courageously” (Said, 1994:11-12).
Weenie once suggested that: “Naming and defining the problem is the first step toward post-colonial recovery and healing” (2000:65).
The story must be told and told so loud that everybody will listen: Aboriginal people who were silenced and forgot how to remember; non-Aboriginal people who often know the Aboriginal world only from biased western movies and text books; and government institutions who still have the power to decide on the fate of Indigenous people. The story must be told and discussed in a very public forum.
As Herman says:
“[R]ecovery requires remembrance and mourning. It has become clear from the experience of newly democratic countries in Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Africa, that restoring a sense of social community requires a public forum where victims can speak their truth and their suffering can be formally acknowledged ... Like traumatized individuals, traumatized countries need to remember, grieve, and atone for their wrongs in order to avoid reliving them” (1997:242).
The world outside of Aboriginal communities must recognize that Aboriginal people live on Indigenous territory, which was once forcibly taken away.
It must be recognized that, since Aboriginal people were never given back their rights to self-government, self-actualization and self-determination, they also never had an opportunity to work out their own solutions to problems created from their experiences.
All over the Americas, people whose ancestors devastated, ravaged and plundered Indigenous worlds are still living on Indigenous people’s lands. Although history cannot be undone, it can be re-told so that it includes all the forgotten stories about the terror of warfare on innocent people, the horror of smallpox and other infectious diseases and the myriad attempts at genocide, murder, subjugation, fear and despair.
True, these are sad and unpleasant stories, but so are the lives of people who were and are their main protagonists.”
Herman, Judith (1997). Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence, from domestic abuse to political terror. New York: Basic Books.
Said, Edward W. (1994). Representations of the Intellectual. New York: Pantheon.
Weenie, A. (2000). Post-colonial Recovering and Healing. In Reyhner, J., J. Martin, L. Lockard and W. Sakiestewa Gilbert (eds.). Learn in Beauty: Indigenous Education for a New Century. Flagstaff, Arizona: Northern Arizona University Press: 65-70.’