Last week I was attended a function where a young Aboriginal woman delivered a key note address on the concept of shame.
I admire the courage of this young woman. Not only did she open up about a topic that was very personal but it was in front of a group of complete strangers.
Because of this young lady’s strength and courage I have decided to take a similar direction. I want to talk about my own feelings of shame because by speaking from the heart and being vulnerable, we open ourselves to new ideas and hopefully new ways of thinking.
The theme for National Reconciliation Week is “let’s take the next steps”. An important concept. However, it is wishful thinking to believe we can focus on moving forward without addressing the current issues; specifically the current incarceration rates of Aboriginal people, the forcible removal of Aboriginal children and the subsequent sorrow and impact of families and, the unemployment rate and life expectancy of Aboriginal people. All of these have a negative effect on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the nation’s ability to confidently take the next steps.
It is important to clearly define the difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offence, crime or wrong. Shame is a painful feeling caused by the consciousness or exposure of unworthy or indecent conduct or circumstances.
Every day I have a feeling of shame. It’s a feeling I have carried and, in a way, become used to living with.
In my life I have been fortunate enough to be offered a number of opportunities which I am extremely grateful for. It is because of my opportunities that I carry shame.
I am ashamed of those opportunities as they were not given to my mother because of her Aboriginality. Prior to 1967 Aboriginal people were not recognised in the constitution instead they were recognised under the Flora and Fauna Act. When my mother was born in 1952 she and her twin brother were not deemed Australian citizens.
It’s hard believe that what we take as our basic human rights was something that Aboriginal people were denied. Even things like attending school or university were distant dreams for my mother and grandmother.
My mother never openly spoke about the trauma caused by openly identifying as Aboriginal. But I have heard my mother’s twin brother talk about the fear they had of being removed from their mother. Hiding underneath the floorboards of the church on the reserve to avoid being taken away.
I bear the scars of my mother fearing her children will be taken. I also bear the scars of being the first in my family to do a lot of things. Today we recognise that as intergenerational trauma. Trauma passed on from one generation to another.
I openly speak about my family and how they are the driving force behind motivating me to do more. I share my vulnerability to help build a greater understanding so we can all move forward. If we are going to progress towards reconciliation we need to feel safe. Brave enough to be vulnerable.
It is not easy.
Andrew is a proud Dunghutti and Anaiwan man from the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales. His ancestry is also a mix of Singaporean, German and Native American.