Ask us anything:  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

Ask us anything: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

August 21, 2019 100 By Stanley Isaacs

How good are you at throwing a boomerang? Such a stereotypical question! when was the last time you encountered casual racism? every bloody Uber… ‘where you from?’ and I’m just like: ‘I’m Aboriginal’ and they’re like:
‘but you don’t look Aboriginal.’ and then I’m like ‘well you didn’t look
racist till you said that!’ and they’re like: ‘okay sorry, I’m just gonna drive.’ Why is dancing so important in Indigenous ceremonies? What happens if you’re a bad dancer? Wouldn’t know. Dancing is about telling our stories and also
passing on our history so it’s very important that as a young person you learn those dances coming through into adulthood and once you learn them you know them for life. There’s no such thing as a bad dancer. Indigenous ceremonial dance is about the ceremony it’s not a performance so you’re not
trying to look good for anyone, you’re participating in sacred ceremony so it’s not
about being good or bad, there’s no such thing Yeah, you’re doing it to honour the old people
your mob, yourself, your family. It’s not really about being a bad dancer. Are you a good dancer?
No, I’m not a good dancer. Is it ever okay to ask someone how Aboriginal they are? I get this all the time. Short answer is no. Can I just answer it flatly straight no, it’s never okay to ask somebody how Aboriginal they are. It’s quite, it’s very offensive to ask that question. If you look at our history there’s a reason why
people aren’t 100% Aboriginal and that’s really heart-breaking. it doesn’t matter the colour of your skin,
or anything like that I guess that’s another stereotype, you have to be black, like dark, to be Aboriginal. and people don’t realise that we lose our skin colour in each generation and things like that so that’s probably one of the ones we cop all of the time, ‘how black are you?’ You don’t ask somebody how much Anglo-Saxon they are, or how much Irish or how much Welsh it doesn’t even come into consideration. I think there’s a lot of people at the University
who have asked me that and, yeah I think they just think it’s okay,
because it’s a matter of curiosity Absolutely a matter of curiosity and I understand that as well, but to answer this question, no. I think it opens up to you having to
justify yourself and justify how much you are or how much you feel, it’s just kind of taking away from who you really are and your identity. If somebody said to you ‘I’m of Aboriginal heritage’
pretty much it should be expected that you just accept that statement. It’s like the coffee, you know, you have your long blacks, you have your flat whites whatever it’s put as much milk in as you
want, but it’s still that coffee. How good are you at throwing a boomerang? How good are you?
Crap. Pretty bad. I won’t even try.
I can’t throw anything, let alone a boomerang. It’s such an art skill. Such a stereotypical question! one time I threw it and it came back
and hit me in the head so not that great. And you’ve got to
think about it, they were used as a hunting tool basically to cause an
injury to a lower limb of an animal so we actually don’t have that much of a
purpose for them anymore. What do you think about the
commercialisation of boomerangs though anyone can buy one and throw it. Sorry… I can’t walk into an antique store and see 65,000 identical factory-made boomerangs
I just, I think that’s incredibly wrong. What is one stereotype that needs to stop? That’s hard, there’s more than one. There’s plenty, petrol sniffing, all blackfellas
on the dole, yeah the list goes on. We get stereotypes all the time. I hear
it every day, we had one just yesterday ‘you get free stuff from the
government.’ I wish they paid my university degree, I still wouldn’t have a HECS debt,
and I wish they gave me a car like people think we get cars or free home
loans, it keeps going on and on. All Indigenous people are drunks and that
they, you know, live in the bush and they don’t know how to live and they can’t
live in houses. We sleep in parks. Like, I sleep in a house. I’ve never lived out bush. The only time I’m sleeping outside is when I’m going bush, going camping and everything. That’s about it. I think one of the biggest stereotypes, I agree is that Indigenous people are the lower-rank in society. Indigenous people can be successful
businessmen, academics, anything that they want to be and I think it’s very
important for people to recognise that and to understand that Indigenous
people will never just fit into one box like we make up 3% of the population and
we come from all walks of life and you’ll never meet two Indigenous people
who are the same and who have the same sort of mixes of cultural and Western
life, it’s just never gonna happen. What do you do on 26 of January? Yabun Festival. Yabun Festival. Yabun. Yabun. Yabun means to make music with a beat. Every year I go to that. You know that everyone’s gonna be there,
it’s a gathering spot. But I also go to community and have a yarn
with the mob at Redfern they do a protest march, I don’t really do those protests much these days, but it’s still good to talk to the elders about what
they’ve gone through and why they’re doing that march, and I think it educates
people as well about what the day means. Like people think 26 January has always been Australia Day – the first Australia Day was in July so it’s crazy that we can’t change that date. And it still brings a lot of sorrow to our
people and I think it’s something that’s got to be done, something has gotta change. Obviously, I don’t celebrate this date. I think it’s incredibly wrong to celebrate on this date. I will sit at home watching TV. I mean yeah,
it’s nothing new, you know? You’ll remember what happened, being Aboriginal and everything you think back on things like
that and just process it through your mind. People who march, it’s awesome and it’s great that they’re willing to stand up
for what they think should be changed and they can, they’re happy to show their
support that way I don’t march because I don’t feel like
I should be there but I come to the after thing so that I can support that
way and be seen around. I had quite a few debates with my friends
about this this year, actually. I don’t do anything. I haven’t really been to many protests because I don’t think that violence or
yelling is the way to resolve things but at the same time I’m not going to go out
and celebrate. But we should change the date.
100%. Is it the Dreaming or Dreamtime? Do all Aboriginal people believe in the same thing?
And what’s the deal with the snake? what’s the deal with Kinyaha? Our ancestors, we say, exist in the Dreaming but these are our Dreamtime stories. The snake collectively in history is the oldest known religious relic.
Cultures all around the world have a connection to a creation serpent, which is what the
Rainbow Serpent is for us slithering through the land creating the
land masses and rivers No, not all Indigenous people maintain the same beliefs, there are a lot of Christian Indigenous people, Agnostic, Catholic, Buddhists, my
family’s Catholic, and that just happens when you’re living in such a
multicultural country. What’s the one thing about Indigenous people or culture that others can’t seem to understand? One, I can’t pick one. I could say a lot about this one. Well, there’s a lot that people don’t understand,
that’s why we’re here. I think the most annoying thing for
me is the ‘what percentage are you?’ question. If there’s anything I could
ask people to stop asking, it’s that. Friends of mine always talk to me, and
I’ve grown up very middle-class, white Australian So from 10 years old I went to a school where I was the only Indigenous child and I went right
through high school, and even now as an older person a big thing that my friends
ask me is like ‘why don’t we know about these Indigenous things, these
Aboriginal stories?’ or ‘why aren’t they shared’ or ‘why aren’t things marked?’ and it’s pretty much, you know, because there’s stories in our lives that we don’t have
to share, because they’re our own stories and it makes the story a little more
watered down once we share it with people because then people share it on,
and changes its meaning. Our connection to the land. We don’t own any land, which a lot of people misunderstand we’re with the land, we’re one with the land,
there’s no ownership in our old ways. Yeah and with that, you get so attached to it, you know like I come from footy circles and everyone
blows up every now and then because certain people get home sick and want
to go home, and they don’t understand it but uh, it’s incredibly hard to be
taken off the land. As an example from where I’m from, there’s a particular type of fish that you can peel its stomach out and splay it open and it shows the
root system that that fish’s eggs were actually laid on which then has
implanted into that animal’s lining of its gut. That is the type of connection
and strength that our people have for the natural environment and that’s what
I feel like mining companies and these big entities that want to pillage the
land for their own benefit aren’t really understanding, and Indigenous people
around the globe and particularly in Canada as well, have that understanding
that we need to think forward for those next generations, it’s not about our needs or our children’s needs, we’ve got to think beyond that. Our culture’s the oldest living one in the world, I mean and people don’t understand how long we’ve been on this earth, how our stories were told in the past, what happened to us as well,
our culture, we’ve got no language back home where I’m from, it’s only two
hours north of here and there’s no language. And I know that myself and other people
in the community are actually trying to bring that back, and trying to bring our
language back. If you look at the language map, you’ve probably all seen
that, you’ll see that out of that there’s not many that are still active. Not sure if you guys speak traditional language up there or anything? My mother’s country is Palm Island,
so that was one of the main settlements and everything, where they sent everybody as punishment you know, and since then culture’s been lost. I’m so inspired by the strength and resilience
of such a people and that’s one thing I would love for all of Australia
to be able to see how incredible and rich this culture is. How do Indigenous relatives work? Why is everyone a cousin, auntie or uncle?
Cause we love each other. You’re an auntie to me. That’s right, exactly, and she has been
asked many times ‘is she really your auntie?’ Because we don’t look alike at all. It’s a complex system but basically we’re all family. With Indigenous culture as well, it’s not believed that your birth mother can give you
all the vital tools you need for your entire life I mean it’s not true, so you
have kind of like an array, all your aunties are your mothers as you have this
collective of leaders in your life you really are equipped for the array of
things that you do experience throughout your life. As soon as she met me she said to me
‘can I call you auntie?’ and I said ‘course you can!’ I felt so respected
that the students call me that and I know that they can come to me and ask me
anything and you know it’s not just school work-related, it’s family or
whatever you know everything like that so it’s such a nice thing for me to have
that respect from the students. She definitely earns it. To me, calling someone my auntie or uncle,
they don’t even have to be like, you know, Indigenous, I’ll
still call her my auntie or uncle out of respect. When was the last time you encountered
casual racism? How do you deal with it? Oh, I get it every day on the bus. I mean Sydney’s full of it if you’re, yeah,
if you’re Indigenous. And if you don’t think it is you joking yourself. We cop it all the time, I’m pretty thick-skinned,
I’ve copped it all my life. I travel in from the Northern Beaches and
I sit on the bus and I will be the last person that people will sit next to on the bus,
pretty much both ways, that’s an hour trip. I’ve had people who’ve had like a
broken leg, or are on crutches and they’ve decided to stand because they
didn’t want to sit next to me. And it actually makes you feel like shit,
it makes you feel like you are insignificant. Got asked yesterday how Aboriginal I am,
I guess… that still hurts a lot, when people want to question who you are
based on the colour of your skin. Racism in Townsville that is like… that’s hard
being from Townsville, and being my age cause Townsville is like juvenile delinquency,
all that, so if you get seen walking with your like, you know, with a
group of other black people and they they constantly will keep their eye on you,
and just watch your every move and everything and that was actually the last time I
encountered racism too when I was at home so, I dunno,
Sydney’s been good to me. That’s a big one too you know, people you
know ‘you’re at university are you really Aboriginal or are you just there for the
benefits?’ Who is your hero?
Oh, Uncle Max Hands down Uncle Max, here he is, right here,
got his shirt right on now. Love you Uncle Max.
That’s our grandfather and our teacher, our master and he’s taught us pretty much
everything. It’s Goodesy for me, Adam Goodes. He’s so cool. Martin Nakata, he’s the first ever Torres Strait Islander
to get a PhD, he’s a good friend of mine and the leadership he showed, that’s why I’m still working in the higher education sector. I could’ve gone and worked in corporates
and things like that. That’s who my hero is, my nan because she was somebody who from early on in life was really passionate and dedicated to education but because of the laws and policies she actually was denied the right to go to school so
that meant she ended up missing out on quite a lot of formative years of
education and learnt to read off rubbish at the tip, jam jars, sauce bottles, all
that kind of stuff she sort of had an understanding that
she had a role to play in terms of fighting for the rights of our people in
the classroom because we should be entitled to have an education.
I feel like with her in my strides I can actually do anything for my people. What can we do to try and make up for the past? I think education is the most
important thing from everything from Australia Day to casual conversations
that you have with people I think knowing more means that you’ll be able
to approach things better. The main thing is just to, before you try and act
just shut up and listen. Get educated. the only way we can really move forward
in all of this and closing the gap, Reconciliation, whatever,
white Australia needs to understand. Well, first of all, you can stop saying
‘it’s in the past get over it. I wasn’t here it wasn’t my fault.’ You know, you can’t
exonerate yourself from a history when that history still affects the present day. It was not that long ago 30, 40 years ago that
we were still classed as plants and animals and people wonder, like they’re still like
‘get over it’ it’s like, well actually it’s not that easy. It’s quite close in my generations as well,
my dad was stolen so you can’t tell me that’s ancient history if I don’t get to know any of my family or my
grandmother or my cousins, I don’t think it’s fair to hold people accountable for things
that happened so long ago, and it’s not constructive, and I think the best thing to
do moving forward is to just be compassionate and respectful of one another. I think about the education system, and I think about the National Curriculum creating a
space for the teaching of historical incidences which then inform why our
people are the way we are today but again it has to be designed and
delivered in a way that is inclusive that’s not a blame and shame game
because we know that that’s not worked in the past and it’s obviously not going
to float in the future. I think it’s just being part of our journey, acknowledging the past, we can’t change what happened but there’s a lot of people out there
who try and say ‘oh, it’s the best thing–’ I heard someone say the other day it’s great for people to be taken from their families like if that was on their fort, would they like that like? Being taken from your white family cause you’re white. Yeah there was a thing on Sunrise about that and the lady actually like made the
suggestion to have a second Stolen Genration I was like looking at her like ‘what the?!’ I hear that all the time ‘but I’m not racist’ when they make
these kinds of comments. We’re still human. And people don’t want to talk to us sometimes cause were different but we’re the same as everyone else. It’s like we come from another planet or something. Just have a yarn with us. We’re not gonna bite. What obstacles stand between
Indigenous kids and higher education? Well, a lot. Getting the big questions. Gosh, where do I start? White privilege. There’s still a little bit of like those
students will go to school and they’re not given enough information about the
services that are provided within universities or even that government
provides for them at school to do better. The further out you go into the more remote places the harder it gets, the less resources that are dedicated, the less time given. They’re forgotten. This varies for a lot of Indigenous kids but it comes down to varying degrees of prejudice. If no one believes that you’re going to be there then you’re not going to be there and you’re just going to fall under what
everyone expects of you. Letting go of home to get an education and you know, like just get out of your comfort zone and leave behind your Indigenous, your cultural world. I think it is, it is a confidence issue unlike a
lot of other families most Indigenous families don’t have anyone who’s got a
tertiary education, it’s quite common and it makes it difficult to break into a
world that you have no idea about and when there’s no support services made
available to you it makes it ten times harder. I was involved in the AIM program
which has high school students Indigenous high school students and we
bring them all in and we discuss Indigenous success and I think that’s
such an important aspect in supporting Indigenous kids in entering into
tertiary education because for a lot of them they just don’t think about it and
they have a lot of sports role models but I think having programs where you
have academic role models in the Indigenous circle is very important. What’s the best part of being Indigenous? This just just reminded me of [singing] “there’s nothing I would rather be, than to be an Aborigine.” [Singing] “And won’t you take my precious land away.” I’ve said it a thousand times–
Say it again, say it loud! I think one of the main reasons is the mob I’ve met,
you and all my sisters and my aunties. Everything’s great. I guess being connected to culture and we have, we’re lucky enough to have
great teachers and we’re lucky enough to be in a mob that is still very strong
culturally and still practices ceremony and to be part of that is, it’s like nothing else,
that’d have to be the best part of being alive. To hear the land talk to you, to see the ancientness, it’s very, very special, it’s a privilege.
It’s definitely the best part. So for me it’s at that cellular level,
like every part of me is an Aboriginal woman and I’m proud of my
heritage and I know that the footsteps that I take have been walked by my
ancestors and that they guide me. I’m in education and we’ve got the textbook for
our unit up there and you know they’re written in 2017 and they’re bringing
some stuff into the into pedagogy which we’ve known for sixty thousand years Being black and deadly. and I think we’re pretty black and
deadly ourselves so that’s another good part. My name is Irene Higgins and I’m a
Wiradjuri woman. My name is Mary Waria and I come from
Badu Island in the Torres Strait. I’m Jack Field, I’m a Kaurna and Yuin man. I’m Harry Whitting and I’m a Gamilaroi and Yuin man. I’m Jeremy Heathcoate and I’m from the
Awabakal nation which is near Newcastle. Kiann Walsh from the Bwgcolman and Birri Gubba tribe, far north Queensland. Hi my name’s Simone and I’m a Bundjalung woman. Hi, my name is Bianca Williams and
I’m a Barkindji woman.