Learning Aspects of Indigenous Culture

I met two lovely indigenous ladies in Canteen Creek or the traditional name Owairtilla. We spent many hours speaking about Indigenous culture and conflict. I am barely having an understanding but did the best I can. It was a priviledge to have the opportunity to be given insights. My hope is that I am a better teacher.

What I learned was that the indigenous people have very distinct tribal lines. When I talked to Leonie (special needs teacher) she indicated that indigenous people were moved by the government into other tribal lands. After what I heard tonight, it is very clear that there are skin groups and strict laws that govern marriage. I was informed that it is to prevent genetic problems passed on, not unlike the notion of not marrying your family member or cousin.

I also learned that the depth of connection to country and family groups is incredibly important. If an indigenous person has to go to hospital a family member will accompany him or her. They fret if they are away from their country and many prefer to live in their country and not move. I also learned about the dream time and that each tribal group/country has a dreaming. Theirs is an oral tradition, knowledge and information is passed on through the dreaming. They transfer knowledge through paintings. It is unchanged for thousands of generations. So indigenous people learn about their dreaming and law. The dreaming is stories.

In respect of conflict there is a payback system. Traditionally if a problem arises or injustice the elders are approached and a gathering held. The victim is given the right to hurt the other but there are limits to this revenge. They don’t kill them but they may harm them. So an eye for an eye exists. Conflicts can occur between families and there can be power issues where one family member may feel inferior to another. Not unlike the tall poppy syndrome where jealousy is present. However the way this is expressed is through putting the other one down, setting up the family for retribution or finding ways to create an argument and fight. The fighting style is to swear, put down and become aggressive this is for both men and women. They will physically punch, use baseball bats or other objects as weapons to ensure that they are not seen as weak. If they don’t fight back it can get worse, so all feel they must defend themselves or be aggressive. The children observe this. If alcohol is present the situation can get worse.

I listened a lot to the stories of conflict and it became clear to me that people were not aware of looking at their own emotions and how this inflames situations. This is not unlike other Australians. I suspect most people do not examine themselves and take responsibility for how they feel. I discussed the idea of projection. How people may feel negative feelings and then project them onto the other and call them ‘bad’. Feuds can develop for generations and there appears no way to stop it unless people make changes within themselves, that is, to see differently. For me, I see people who I feel hurt me as my teachers and I seek to look at why I am triggered. I am aware of their behaviour but I am not able to change others but I can change myself. The indigenous lady talked about rising above the situation, not being on their level and retaliating. I saw that as a wisdom. Not entering into the conflict or putting logs on the fire but de-escalating through non retaliation.

We also briefly talked about mediation between a feuding family group but I was told they didn’t believe in mediation. I explained what you do in mediation and essentially it is to help people hear each other and see each other and then resolve issues for a win/win. She didn’t think it would work and didn’t think they would change, her preference was to cut off the relationship and not talk at all. Sometimes that can be a solution but I think it is worth a try to see if growth is possible.

The discussion was good for me as I want to be sure I don’t break customs or try to advise children in a western way, they have to live in their communities and really my work I feel is about teaching communication skills (not blaming, not abusing) and learning to listen. To focus on solving problems rather than hating people. My work is about restorative behaviours. My indigenous friend asked about how to create the love. I had mentioned to them to love others that this is a real power. Her friend also thought so. However, it is hard to know how to apply it in their situation. I said don’t hate the other, feel compassion for them as they are in pain. That is how I see them. I send love to them silently, that is my way. I also talked about Gandhi and the power of nonviolence as a solution where you don’t escalate the problem. She mentioned people she had known who were non violent and respected. So there is possibility to inspire this idea.

I was very fortunate to meet these girls and they taught me a great deal tonight. I feel better prepared to teach conflict resolution to older kids and younger ones tomorrow. I have a feel for some of the complexity having talked through some violent conflicts this lady was having. So it really gave me insights. It will be interesting to see how tomorrow turns out.


Mohandas Gandhi

“Each one has to find his peace from within. And peace to be real must be unaffected by outside circumstances.”