Last week the Amaroo Local Aboriginal Land Council office in Walcha was one of the final venues for an important event hosted by Armajun Aboriginal Health Services to help service providers across the region better understand their Aboriginal clients.
Mel Brown from Spirit Dreaming developed and presented the workshops in Armidale, Glen Innes, Inverell, Tenterfield, Tingha and Walcha – and she didn’t pull any punches.
“I could dress it up, but it is what it is,” she said.
“What I think it shows is the resilience of our people, to still be here after all the stuff we talked about– we survived genocide. That’s the spirit stuff; you can’t take that away from us because it is inside and it’s who we are.”
Ms Brown gave a brief outline of Aboriginal history and culture as an introduction and explained how transgenerational trauma and lateral violence continue to impact on our Aboriginal community.
We survived genocideMel Brown - Spirit Dreaming
“Transgenerational trauma is created when layers upon layers of trauma are experienced by individuals, or collectively by a community,” Ms Brown said.
“It is created when trauma is experienced repeatedly, so negative behaviours begin to manifest because there is no opportunity to engage in a healing process. Add four or five generations of people who may have all suffered the similar experiences of assimilation and dispossession, and we can then begin to understand the effects the past has on our future as Aboriginal people.”
Ms Brown said many parents and other family members suffer the ongoing effects of transgenerational traumas, passing this trauma onto to the next generation.
“Trauma can be passed on through parenting practices such as neglect, behavioural problems, violence, substance use and mental health issues,” she said.
One of the legacies of this trauma was lateral violence, and Ms Brown said this was rife within Aboriginal communities.
“Lateral violence is displaced violence directed at one’s peers, rather than one’s true adversaries,” Ms Brown said.
“It occurs when an oppressed group of people engage in destructive behaviours to find power for themselves in a powerless situation.”
Behaviours such as gossip, jealousy, put-downs and blame were all examples of lateral violence and are inherent human traits according to Ms Brown.
We are buggers to deal withMel Brown - Spirit Dreaming
Cultural obligation and kinship are explained in the workshop because they underlay a complex system of roles and relationships within the Aboriginal community.
“We are buggers to deal with,” Ms Brown said.
“You have to consult with many members of the community, particularly the elders as no one will want to speak on behalf of the group. Our family structures are linked with the community.”
This focus on community was one of the big differentiators between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people Ms Brown said.
“You can always tell an Aboriginal in a social situation,” she said.
“The Aboriginal will ask ‘where are you from?’ while the non- Aboriginal will start with ‘what do you do?’. We do not care where you work, we want to know if you’re a good bloke. Work does not define us.”
We might fight in between ourselves, and we might fight outside, but we’re still here.Mark Davies CEO Amaroo LALC
Amaroo Aboriginal Land Council CEO Mark Davies said even though the workshop content was dark, it was a good insight into what Aboriginal people go through.
“It was very raw,” he said.
“But given all that, we have still reached 2018 and we are still strong. We might fight in between ourselves, and we might fight outside, but we’re still here. I’d like to think in 100 years time this will be history to us and we’ll be talking about the proactive and the light stuff.”
Everything that was said, we’ve all experienced some of that in lifeWalcha elder Zane Bartholomew
Walcha Dunghutti elder Zane Bartholomew said all that Ms Brown presented rang true to him.
“Everything that was said, we’ve all experienced some of that in life,” he said.
“What Mel presented was very informative and took my sister Hope and I back to our younger days and life experiences and what it was like back then.”
Walcha Council community services manager Karen Kermode said the workshop provided a valuable insight into the traumas faced by Aboriginal people of the past, and how this has had a ripple effect that continues to impact Aboriginal people today.
“I would recommend this course to everyone who provides services to Aboriginal people, as it also explained their responsibilities to their extended family and community,” she said.