We’ve had the first day at the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation workshop. I find that at these types of events I work at two levels: as a participant and as an observer of the processes involved.
There are 40-45 people from around the country with almost two-thirds being Aboriginal. Much of the day was spent beginning to share the stories behind the 40 funded projects. There are some pretty inspiring tales: like the woman who sold her house to pay for a youth crime prevention project; the group making possum cloaks which were used at the opening of the Melbourne Commonwealth Games and the Apology to the Stolen Generations; the circle of elders working to strengthen their community.
We also broke into small group to consider two questions:
- What is healing to you?
- When someone is healed, how do you know?
Our groups came up with the following responses.
For me the key point was that healing is a journey, not a destination. Particularly when working with the healing needed after a history of colonisation and dispossession we can’t just work from a Western medical model where we “cure” the pain. As we discussed in the group, the pain of losing a child remains with someone forever – it can’t be cured, but there can be a process of healing.
From a process point of view, as a non Aboriginal person, I was interested to see what, if any, was the difference between a workshop I would run and a workshop that was run by, and for, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations. To me the main differences were:
- There was a very strong sense of place. People identified where they come from and where they were working. It was interesting to see how well some people knew where the various Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations were.
- There was a strong emphasis on stories. Each funded group was give 4-5 minute “presentation on the outcomes your program is seeking to achieve, and evaluation measures you have thought about”. In the agenda one hour was set aside for this (which was optimistic as there were 20 funded projects). What actually happened was that most people told the story behind the project, and not in five minutes either. The first four groups took about 50 minutes between them as did the next four. Time has been made for the stories, which will continue over then next couple of days.
- Elders played an important role in the day.
- The marginalisation, trauma and racism experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is obvious and is clearly a daily reality. Despite this history, I haven’t had a sense of bitterness, hatred or hopelessness. As the facilitator (Grant Sara) would say, they are strong and deadly. (For overseas readers “deadly” doesn’t mean killer, it means something like “awesome”.
There was a different flavour at times as well.
- Some of the language was slightly different to most forums I attend – the introductions included the questions “what makes you feel deadly today?”
- There was lots of humour and laughter. Grant (or Government Grant as he called himself) encouraged and embraced this humour.
- There is such a strong emphasis on community and I am always amazed at the connections they find. (Many participants quickly discover some family relationship or someone they both know).
- The agenda was a loose guide and times were very flexible.
We ended the day with a tour of the National Gallery of Australia where there are 13 new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander galleries. It is a great collection of traditional and urban art. Well worth a visit.