In recognition of January 26, Honi is dedicating its platform this week to prioritising the voices of Indigenous people. Find out more here.
First I’d like to acknowledge all Elders past and present here on Gadigal Land, where this paper is published, and state that neither this Land nor any other Lands have ever ceded Sovereignty to the British in 1788 or to any illegal government since Federation in 1901.
As a Gamilaraay Maari (Man) and Birriwaa (Warrior) from Collarenebri who carries the blood of Yinarrs (Women) and Birriwaas who fought and lost their lives resisting colonialism, I have always resisted government and the illegal system that was set up to benefit the government and its subjects. A big part of a Gamilaraay person’s way of life is being not only a warrior but also a healer of your family, your land, your community and your People as a whole. Trans-generational trauma has been proven to pass through six generations. In Black communities all over our Land we have both trans-generational and inter-generational Trauma, which were clearly caused by colonisation.
When you are constantly fighting against a system that was set up to make your People one day die out through processes such as the White Australia Policy and the Assimilation Policy, healing oneself as well as all other Gamilaraay is a constant struggle. The struggle only becomes harder each day as governments legislate to oppress an already oppressed People. In Central Australia they have “Dadirri,” a Healing process about deep listening. It is where an individual or a People can listen to their Inner Voice, or the spirits that surround them each day, to fill their Spirit so they are able to cope with death and destruction of their families and their Lands by the invaders.
To explain intergenerational trauma one only has to look at the Stolen Generations and the effects it has had on our People. Taking a person away from their family is the first step in breaking someone’s Spirit; taking their Culture away by putting them with a White family makes it an ongoing process. The attitudes that Indigenous people should “Get over it” or “We said Sorry what more do you want” are things that perpetuate the problem because the lifelong battles and scars that people carry can’t be fixed by an empty apology.
An apology is the first step to healing, but without ongoing support and strength-based solutions you’ll have a whole generation of people walking around sad, lost and confused, either looking for their families or getting caught up in alcohol, drugs and mental health problems which won’t help any Black person. The Process of healing in most institutions is done in a Western way, but hey, why would the government give enough funding or employ Black People to help when they really never wanted to help the Black man or Black woman anyway?
The invaders never helped in any way shape or form in regards to the “Aboriginal Problem” as they call it.
The healing of Gamilaraay People can only be done by Gamilaraay because we understand the Trauma, Pain and Suffering they’ve been through; because we feel that same Trauma, Pain and Suffering through dispossession and the killing of our People, Totems and Land.
The reasons why Gamilaraay find it hard to stay connected to Country and heal themselves are quite complex. I come from a pastoral area and the only jobs for my People are in services provided essentially to Black People, like the Aboriginal Medical Service, Land Council or preschool. You might have a few in mainstream jobs, but nowhere near enough to make families stay on Country. My Mother and Father made a decision to bring my siblings and me to Sydney for an education but maintained our Connection to Country by going home as much as possible. Most people who live in the city generally only go home for funerals, and you can’t heal yourself or others when you are suffering the loss of a loved one. For one to overcome the disconnection away from Country they can find people from their Clan Group or Nation in the city, because generally families or extended families leave together. Maintaining Culture and cultural ties to your mob are what sustains you even while living in the city where first contact with Europeans began.
Our culture is ingrained in language, and the stories and histories passed down through language are important to the process of healing. Learning language, culture and traditions enables one to begin to heal and move forward as a stronger person. When language was removed, our stories and way of life were thought to be lost, but the restoration of language assists in restoring strength to culture and lore.
Language assists in healing us, and through it we are brought in touch with our heritage and songlines, using those that continue to hold knowledge that was passed on to them through the generations (secretly, of course). Healing as a nation requires moving forward as Gamilaraay, learning the ways and lore that have survived since Gamilu Bidi Wii (Before the Big Light—or as scientists call it ‘The Big Bang’) despite 200 years of colonisation. Healing as a people requires dedication to learning and sharing knowledge. Healing as a person requires accepting this and using the tools of colonisation against the colonisers.
We resist being assimilated completely, but get educated in their ways to resist and fight them as Gamilaraay, learning how we can use their laws to benefit the healing of our Gamilaraay nation. We are not Australians.
My Great Grandfather (William Levy, may he rest in peace) was a doctor or “Clever Man” who would heal people who were forcibly removed from the Gunu Gunu Clan area (or Gurley Plains as the Whiteman named it) to a Reserve called Terry Hie Hie. The wonderful power of healing has been passed on to me but not in a traditional way as it was since Gamilu Bidu Wii (Before the Big Light). I have had to find ways that I can heal people who are in my family, but also people who resist against the system on the frontline with me. Going Home to Gamilaraay Country as much as I can to replenish my Spirit, being on my Country where my Ancestors spilt their blood resisting but also lived in total harmony with each other and the Land. Sleeping on one’s Country is the most beautiful feeling one can experience. I have a Saying when I enter Gamilaraay Country—every time I go home my Ancestors wake up to greet me and welcome me back. I’ve had experiences where I’ve felt Spirits in the same space as me—even when I’ve gone home to protest against mining companies.
As a healer, I have things that I do when I heal people in my presence—breathing with a person who is carrying trauma and giving them my spirit and filling their body and spirit with a part of me through a simple hug. Maintaining Culture through song, dance and stories is another way of healing because you are directly talking to your Old People and through that they are able to heal you as well as others—the way we have done since time immemorial. When you’re constantly under threat, whether it be from government, police, policies, legislation or any kind of authority figure, we as Gamilaraay have a smoking Ceremony to cleanse and heal our spirits and all people who are in the struggle with us.
The resistance to protect Gamilaraay Country is all a part of the healing process. The strength that fills your spirit comes from the Land, so if you resist against mining companies and other entities who want to desecrate your Land, it’s a way of healing your spirit. Song, dance and stories done through smoking Ceremonies are quite beneficial to me and my children’s spirit. I smoke them regularly and you can see and feel the change in them immediately after doing so. My eldest daughter is 5 and she has attended at least 15 funerals of our immediate family in her short life. Like me, she is a healer. To fulfil my obligations as not only her father but her healer I have to smoke her, hug her and give her my spirit as much as possible to make sure she knows the process. One day she, too, will have to fulfil the role of healer in our family.