We find ourselves still in an extraordinary environment. Reminded constantly that we are not at home. Though we do also feel ‘at home’ and very, very welcome. And we are continuing our learning continuing talking with Canadians, and spending a lot of time with First Nations people talking about our different countries and where we might overlap and where we might differ. The language sometimes in itself telling us just this. The terms: First Nations, Indigenous, Aboriginal and Native all being used here at different times and in different ways. The ‘Residential Schools’ reminding us of Stolen Generations. Visiting Christian Island Reserve reminding us of Missions. And on Christian Island Reserve buyng a cap which was of course, made in China, just like so many things in Australia. Reminding us also of the international nature of our modern world.
A couple of days ago my partner Janine and our 3 year old son and I, went to give a workshop with the students at the Anishaabe Education and Training Circle in Barrie (just North of Toronto) about our different perspectives on the work we do. (Actually my son just got me to bite the green stuff off his strawberries but he was there and really making significant subtle contributions).
The adult students were particularly interested in Indigenous issues in Australia and New Zealand. Janine, my partner being Maori and Indigenous to Ao tearoa, was able to speak of her homeland and her more recent work in Australia with Indigenous Child Care Centres, and spoke of the similiarities and differences across our three countries. You will have to consult her for more details. As a whitefella Austalian I did not and do not feel entitled or well-placed to speak of Indigenous Australian issues. I figure Indigenous Australians are emminently capable of speaking about those things themselves.
What I decided to talk about was the dilemmas/issues/decisions that I am confronted with, as a non-indigenous Australian, when given the opportunity (and they are numerous) to work with Indigenous Australians. So I have decided to post these questions. There are others, and I know the answers to each of these questions are going to be different for each of us, so as I sit here in Canada, these are the things that occur to me:
1. What is it that helps people flourish no matter who they are? And are these elements common to all peoples or different and specific?
2. How does change come about? When faced with a person, a family, a community or society who/which is unhappy, distressed…trapped in misery or hardship, what is it that might help that person/group start to shift?
3. If I work with this Indigenous person/community will I make things better or worse? I carry my culture with me, my values and views. Will I continue, unwittingly, to colonise? Or will I be helpful?
4. If not me, then who? In this situation, at this time, in this moment, who is the best person to offer something? Who is best placed? And if the need is great, and the window open only briefly, then am I the best person (the only person?) in that moment to offer something?
5. If I am to offer something, what do I need to be aware of? Pay attention to?
What is it that I need to be aware of and attend to that is unique and different, about me and about this moment and the person in front of me?
6. f I decide that on this occasion, I do offer something to this person, or this family, or this community…what do I need to make sure I hang on to in myself, make smaller, less intrusive? What do I need to maximise in my self to be helpful? What skills, ideas, strategies, might I need to make bigger, stronger, more accessible, more useful, more creative, more accessible… so that another person might take them, play with them, change them and make their their own?
So…these are my thoughts. I am interested in how others similarly confronted, and might answer these questions. And what other questions you might ask yourselves.