"... once safety had been established, people must be allowed to find and explore their individual and collective stories to become self-aware. Storytelling is both a strong cultural and educational tool and a healing ritual among Indigenous people." Judy Atkinson
We Al-li was the name given to the programme that evolved from the participatory action focus of Judy Atkinson's research.
In the Woppaburra language, We signifies fire, the spirit of cleansing that is essential to healing, re-creation and regeneration. Al-li means water, the source of all life.
Atkinson emphasises that the core business of "Being Aboriginal" throughout time was the "ceremonial activities used to unite people and establish order from within the normal human interactions of relating, and the chaos of natural disaster and human discord..."
"... The structured work in the We Al-li process was an attempt to re-create ceremonies of healing in the contemporary situation. The study demonstrated that it is possible to build cultural safety through the use of cultural tools that would allow Aboriginal people to address the violence and heal the trauma that has become part of our day-to-day lives. In the course of the study, participants sat together over many long hours of dadirri.
Dadirri is the process of listening, observing, and reflecting, learning and re-learning, and acting with integrity on what has been learnt. In dadirri - the reciprocity of working together, sharing stories, and learning from shared life experiences - participants worked to support each other in their pain and, in the hope that there is a way through the pain, they engaged in mutual healing."
A number of activities were developed in the We Al-li workshops to help people find their stories that had been suppressed or denied. The workshops also helped people "connect their stories into a whole, to aid understanding and provide insight. People compiled genograms (diagrams of intergenerational trauma) and were shocked at what they saw. Their story was an individual story but it was also part of a collective story." Judy Atkinson
The Lakota intervention model
Atkinson's findings are consistent with those of Maria Yellow Horse Braveheart-Jordan, who showed that those Lakota people (Teton Sioux in North America) carrying the historical trauma can transcend trauma through a collective survivor identity and a commitment to traditionally-oriented values and healing.
She found that:
Check out the manuscript Wakiksuyapi: Carrying the Historical Trauma of the Lakota by Maria Yellow Horse Braveheart.
Judy Atkinson's work reveals important insights into the nature of healing in Aboriginal people and how it occurs. Here, I outline a number of key points as stated in her book:
1. "People need to feel safe before they could look honestly and openly at who they are and the context an content of their lives, or examine their trauma stories. A safe place is an environment where people can begin to find the parts of themselves that have become lost, the fragmented bits of stories that have been too painful and shameful been and so have been disowned, pushed down and denied."
2. "... once safety had been established, people must be allowed to find and explore their individual and collective stories to become self-aware. Storytelling is both a strong cultural and educational tool and a healing ritual among Indigenous people."
3. "... healing occurred as participants felt and expressed the depth of their feelings in safety to themselves and others. Emotional release was a critical factor in reclaiming themselves."
4. Participants can be helped to "make sense of their own stories in relationship to the collective, communal story. The concept that people can make sense of their own lives seems unrealistic in societies where value is placed in the expert knowledge of others, and the authority, expertise and power of those “expert others” over them. Yet the importance of allowing people collectively to tell and make sense of their own stories proved the single most important outcome of the study."
5. "... multiple layers of loss and grief must be worked through. There is no implicit healing. One layer uncovers another layer; this is the educational process of finding who I am in all its multiple dimensions, complexities and depth. Such educational experiences can become an exciting and painful journey of self-discovery."
6. "The final stage of the process occurs naturally. As people work through the layers, not necessarily in the linear stages expressed here, the intrinsically enter a period of transformation. They begin to express themselves in different and creative ways, to write, paint, dance, and make positive changes in their life."
> Voices of We Al-li