Earlier this year, I received a beautiful and heart-warming message on Facebook from two of the Sharing Culture network of Advisors/Healers, Pip Gordon and Dr Miriam Rose Ungunmerr Baumann.
"Hey David Clark, we yarned up 'Sharing Culture' and Miriam said… 'David... lets grow belonging and connection'. Love to you and your family and Carlie Atkinson and Judy Atkinson… a seed planted for a sit down together up here in Nauiyu?"
This message was sent in response to me asking Pip to check whether Aunty Miriam, a remarkable spirit-filled woman known for her reflections on dadirri, wanted to collaborate with Sharing Culture.
Pip, who lives in Katherine in the Northern Territory (NT) of Australia, and I have been slowly ‘growing’ this collaborative project since then, which we have called Voices of the Rivers.
Pip has been talking to and working with Elders and other members of local Indigenous communities. She visits Miriam in Nauiyu, Daly River - which is about 260 kms from Katherine – on a fairly regular basis.
Pip later introduced me to Miliwanga Wurrben another eminent Elder from the region, on Skype. In a second conversation, and a following letter, Miliwanga asked if I would help Indigenous peoples in Australia.
“I hope that in your way you might support us to allow others to hear about the lives, the culture and the many stories of Indigenous People in Australia.” Miliwanga Wurrben
I felt emotional during our Skype conversation as Miliwanga described what is happening to Indigenous peoples. And what will happen if remote Indigenous communities are closed by the government, as they are likely to do.
I was touched by Miliwanga’s statement, “I am most honoured to be heard by you and feel grateful and thankful for our connection.”
I have to say that I felt a very strong connection as Miliwanga talked to me on Skype. I felt her pain and the fear of her peoples about their future. I know what I must do and I feel it is like a calling. I am planning that Voices of the Rivers is a long-standing Sharing Culture project.
This project will not just be about helping Indigenous peoples. It will be about me listening to, and learning from, Indigenous peoples. And disseminating the knowledge and understanding I acquire to as many people as possible.
In May-June, I spent 18 days in the Northern Territory (NT), meeting Miriam, Pip, Miliwanga and others who I hope with participate in the Voices of the Rivers project. I had an amazing and moving experience.
Now I will raise funding to take a second trip to the NT, this time with a filmmaker, so that this exciting project moves forward and creates a powerful Voice of Indigenous healing. Please enjoy these pages.
The Way Forward
The Voices of the Rivers project involves developing educational and advocacy resources based on the lived experience of Indigenous peoples living in communities on the Daly, Katherine and Waterhouse Rivers in the Northern Territory of Australia, as well as the Lower Fitzroy River in Western Australia.
The project will involve discussions with Aboriginal Elders (e.g. Dr Miriam Rose Ungunmerr Baumann, Miliwanga Wurrben) and other community members over a period of years as their communities undertake healing journeys from the adversities they have faced over the past decades. We want to showcase to the world what is happening in these communities, the good and the bad.
Our visits will allow us to hear of the adversities these communities have faced and still face today. For example, Aunty Miriam has described how Nauiyu was once a thriving community, but has become increasingly dysfunctional as a result of the Federal government’s paternalistic and controlling Intervention in 2007.
“There’s nothing here. Everything has been taken off us and given to outside people,” says Aunty Miriam. No wonder substance use issues and youth suicides have surfaced in this beautiful community.
We will see firsthand what life is like in the Rivers’ communities, hear of the strengths and assets of the people, as well as the barriers to healing they face.
I will ask community members, “If you could create the future, what would the future for your community look like?” And how can Sharing Culture and wider society help your community to achieve these dreams?
Our visits will allow us to learn about Indigenous healing practices. There is much that other Indigenous communities worldwide can be inspired by and learn about. Moreover, there is much that non-Indigenous people can learn from the humane and holistic Indigenous view of heath and wellbeing.
We will learn about the Indigenous concept of dadirri, and work with Aunty Miriam and Sharing Culture Advisor Pip Gordon to explore the concepts of Connection and Belonging.
We want to help facilitate the connection of young people in Nauiyu to the ‘outside’ world to facilitate their living in two cultures. Aunty Miriam advocates for experiences that allow Indigenous youth to learn to ‘walk in two worlds’ - the Aboriginal and mainstream Western worlds.
I know that I will be very fortunate in learning a lot more about Indigenous culture, arts (e.g. painting, music, dance, ceremony, theatre) and spirituality. We will learn about traditional healing approaches from Miliwanga Wurrben and others.
Voices of the Rivers will allow a worldwide audience to see the adversities that Indigenous peoples face and overcome. Our audience will gain access into the everyday lives of Indigenous peoples as they travel a healing journey and celebrate with them their successes.
I hope that many of our audience will connect with and, in some way or other, help and/or learn from the Rivers’ communities.
We will help Indigenous peoples create a narrative that challenges the disempowering discourse and paternalistic actions of governments. This narrative will help Indigenous communities worldwide. It will help empower people living in The Rivers’ communities.