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Harnessing culture as a protection and strength

In Strengths of Australian Aboriginal cultural practices in family life and child rearing, Lohoar, Butera and Kennedy (Australian Institute of Family Studies—2014), identify how cultural practices contribute to effective family functioning and how these practices have positive effects on children and communities. The main messages are:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kinship relations reflect a complex and dynamic system that is not captured by existing non-Indigenous definitions of family.
  • Emerging evidence supports some of the strengths of traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures in family functioning and raising children, but conventional academic wisdom can be incompatible with traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge systems.

The strengths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural traditions and customs, as they apply to family life and raising children, revolve around 4 interrelated themes:

  1. A collective community focus on child rearing helps children.
    Interdependence, group cohesion and community loyalty are important features of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander family and community life, where raising children is considered to be a shared responsibility of all community members.
  2. Children need the freedom to explore and experience the world.
    In most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, children are offered every opportunity to explore the world around them—to help them develop the necessary skills to successfully negotiate their pathways to adulthood.
  3. Elderly family members are important to family functioning.
    The elderly are highly respected for their contributions to family life in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, particularly in helping children to understand the practical aspects of life and society.
  4. Spirituality helps families cope with challenges.
    Families and communities who engage in spiritual practices benefit from a greater sense of identity, and individuals are more likely to connect with, support and help protect one another.

The resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people can be strengthened by harnessing their culture. This will also help to reduce their vulnerability.

Your support in helping them gain knowledge about who they are, their land and country, and the role they have in their community is an important part of your work. You can assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, young people and parents to:

  • learn about their connections and belonging
  • find positive Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander male and female mentors
  • identify a positive Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander woman to talk to about women’s business
  • identify a positive Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander man to talk to about men’s business
  • have the opportunity to participate in men’s and women’s activities to connect to country and enact the important roles they have been given.

Consult with the cultural practice advisor, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander colleagues and community members, Elders and professionals to understand the best ways to connect children and young people to their culture and community.

The strengths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural practices in family life and child rearing

This Strengths of Australian Aboriginal cultural practices in family life and child rearing infographic identifies the strengths as being:

A collective community focus—The concept of ‘one community, many eyes’ helps children to build trust and confidence in themselves and in others, access support when they face challenges, and be safe.

Autonomous play—Having the freedom to explore the world can empower children to build independence, learn responsibility and make sound decisions.

Respect for the elderly—Elderly family and community members help children to learn their responsibilities, understand who they are and where they come from, and keep the spirit of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures alive.

Spirituality—This helps children to cope with life by connecting with others, instilling positive values (such as caring and sharing), improving physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing, and providing opportunities to heal from trauma.

Further reading

Strengths of Australian Aboriginal cultural practices in family life and child rearing Lohoar, Butera and Kennedy, (Australian Institute of Family Studies—2014)

The strength of the community

In spite of the level of disadvantage many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities experience, they are vibrant and actively seeking to address the issues they face. Strong cultural connections are fundamental to increasing resilience in the community.

You can support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities by:

  • developing a strong partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and services in the community
  • showing a genuine respect and empathy to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people when they are talking about their cultural and life experiences
  • consulting with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander colleagues, Elders and professionals about effective ways to engage children and families in conversations to discuss some of the challenges they are experiencing
  • assisting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, women and men to engage in genuine opportunities to connect with their country, land and roles within their community
  • providing information and education about the impacts adults’ challenges have on their parenting of children
  • embracing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ beliefs about spiritual, emotional and physical wellbeing and traditional healing methods, and connecting them with someone who can support them on their journey
  • looking for opportunities to connect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander mentors
  • looking for opportunities to involve Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Elders or professionals in your conversations with parents, family, kin and community to help communicate the worries and develop culturally appropriate solutions
  • respectfully find out about men’s and women’s business for the family and community.

Embracing the inner spirit model for healing

Note

‘Healing gives us back to ourselves. Not to hide or fight anymore. But to sit still, calm our minds, listen to the universe and allow our spirits to dance on the wind … [and] drift into our dreamtime. Healing ultimately gives us back to our country. To stand once again in our rightful place, eternal and generational. Healing is not just about recovering what has been lost or repairing what has been broken. It is about embracing our life force to create a new and vibrant fabric that keeps us grounded and connected.’

Associate Professor Helen Milroy, Aboriginal child psychiatrist and Australia’s first Aboriginal doctor (The Medical Journal of Australia, Volume 190 Number 10, 18 May 2009)

Source: The Aboriginal Inner Spirit Model (Ngarlu Assessment Model) was developed by Joseph 'Nipper' Roe, who belonged to the Karajarri and Yawuru people.

Note

‘There is a word in many different language groups that describes inner spirit and many Aboriginal people share this belief.

Our Inner Spirit is the centre of our being and emotions.

When our spirit feels strong our mind feels strong.

When our spirit feels tangled our mind feels tangled.

Strong Inner Spirit is what keeps people healthy and keeps them connected together.

Strong Inner Spirit keeps our family strong, our community strong and our country alive.’

(Aboriginal Inner spirit model from Strong Spirit Strong Mind.)

Some healing ways to build strong spirit and identity may include:

  • ceremonies
  • healing circles
  • men’s and women’s business
  • stories, art, song, dance and music
  • being on country and taking on responsibilities handed down for care and protection

The video Songlines: Aboriginal Art and Storytelling explains more about this way of Aboriginal healing.

Tip

You need to:

  • talk with families about the way they come together and heal
  • consult with Cultural Practice Advisors, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander practice leaders and staff to learn more about Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander healing services and how you can support men, women, young people and children in healing
  • consult with your Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander colleagues about Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander healers in your area (or in other areas) who you may be able to talk with
  • help parents, young people and children to connect with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander healers, healing places and other Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people who can guide them, if that is what they want
  • learn about the traditional sites of healing in your area and how men and women connect with their land and country differently and respect these spaces.

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