Identity: more than the colour of your skin
I am often asked about my Aboriginal heritage.
“But you don’t look Aboriginal,” they say. “So how come you identify as Aboriginal?”
The truth is my Aboriginal heritage isn’t something I’ve just decided to identify with in recent years – it’s something that’s always been a part of my life and my identity. When I get asked these questions, this is what I tell people.
My father is Aboriginal. His mother was Aboriginal and his father was a white man. My Grandmother’s family lived on the Aboriginal reserve outside of a small country town in western New South Wales. My Grandmother was one of the first black women to live in town instead of on the fringes of society. She passed away when my Dad was very young, and he was sent to be raised by his white grandparents on the East Coast.
Dad’s Aboriginal Aunties and Uncles tried to visit my Dad and his brother, one time driving for nine hours to see them on Christmas Day.
When they arrived, they were turned away and were never allowed to see their nephews.
Dad’s Aboriginal heritage was never discussed, was frowned upon and buried like a dirty secret. His non-Aboriginal Grandparents believed they were doing the right thing, giving the boys opportunities for education and a life free of discrimination. While Dad and his brother made the most of these opportunities they always felt they were missing out on something. They felt incomplete. It wasn’t until Dad was well into his 20s that he started to discover the other side of his family and his identity, and it wasn’t until last September that we were all able to meet each other for the first time.
We all discovered that we belong to a clan, a huge Mob of over 300 people and dozens of families from all over Australia.
My parents have given me and my sisters the opportunity my Dad never had growing up, to get to know both sides of our family and culture. We celebrate holidays such as Easter and Christmas, but we also participate in NAIDOC week, Reconciliation Week and other community events and gatherings.
I am a descendant of the Nayiampa Weilwan people of Central Western New South Wales and I’m proud of where I come from.
There are thousands of people all over Australia with similar stories. For generations, Aboriginal men, women and children have been separated from their families. Many people only now have the opportunity or feel safe enough to discover and celebrate their true identity. Some will never get that chance. This isn’t something that happened hundreds of years ago, this is something that’s happening today.
Many young Aboriginal people are struggling to deal with what is now recognised as intergenerational trauma. It’s no wonder there’s an identity crisis with many Aboriginal youth of today. We’re damned if we do – and incomplete if we don’t.
So the next time you meet someone who identifies as Aboriginal but who doesn’t fit your idea of what an Aboriginal person should look like, don’t tell them they don’t look Aboriginal – trust me, we know! Ask them what their story is and I guarantee you’ll learn something.This week is National Reconciliation Week. To learn more or find an event near you, check out the NRW events website.