Strategies to Face Adversity: Learning

Many study participants expressed that learning about their culture was an important part of survival as an Aboriginal person in today’s Aboriginal society.

“Even though I was spaced out a lot of the time, I learnt so much from these Aboriginal people, something that stuck out for me was how they shared just about everything with me. The old people would give me something to eat and a bed for the night if I needed it. I spun out how I only went to their place with their son, nephew or grandson. They took me in and they never judged me, they just accepted me for what I was and at that time I was a druggy.”

Unknown-1Learning from one’s mistakes was considered important for many participants in this study. This was not surprising as learning is considered a traditional cultural principle especially for children and young adults.

Traditionally, such individuals were permitted to make mistakes, at times more than once. The expectation was that they would learn and not make the same mistake again. Of course, this was important for their survival.

Some Aboriginal people saw learning as the ability to gather knowledge and information about their culture from Aboriginal elders and leaders. This is not an easy task and individuals soon learn that there are cultural protocols and processes that must be adhered to before any cultural information is passed on.

Individuals must show humility and demonstrate that they have respect for themselves and others, especially their elders. So learning, in regard to gaining knowledge and information about one’s culture is, for some individuals, a major part of empowerment and self-determination.

Although some study participants shared their personal experiences of learning, the majority spoke of the importance of learning about their culture from community elders and leaders. Many expressed a great deal of pride in their ability to do so.

Study participants who were removed from their family from a young age or who were never taught important cultural practices, expressed that learning about their culture was an important part of survival as an Aboriginal person in today’s Aboriginal society. Aboriginal cultural knowledge and practices must be learned, in order for them to be retained and passed on to future generations.

The following participant, an elderly female, spoke strongly about teaching and passing on cultural knowledge, and the importance of never allowing our culture to die out:

“Me and my kids we always identified as Murries, that’s how I brung them up. They also had a lot to do with mum and dad. My kids were taught about our Murrie culture, yes the Murrie way. They know some of the language, how to track small animals. How to make a damper? And cook it in the ground. They can go out bush and gather some bush foods.

I tell them the stories. I believe we must keep our culture alive, we can’t let it die out. We have survived, so our culture must survive too.”

Another female participant removed from her family at the age of four and fostered by a non-Aboriginal family, knew very little of her culture and cultural practices. She explained during her interview how she had spent most of her adult life learning about her culture and cultural practices. She explained how she was taught different cultural practices from her husband:

“He taught me a lot like how important funerals are cause I never knew that funerals were important. So yeah, he taught me a lot. He taught me about the land as well cause I was always frightened of the bush. He would take me and the kids out into the bush so yeah he taught me a lot of cultural stuff that I didn’t even know.”

For some participants learning about their Aboriginal culture such as their language was important:

“I learned many of the Noongar words and spoke them as often as possible so as not to forget them or their meaning.”

Other participants spoke of the cultural way of doing things:

“I of course have a long way to go and I am still learning about my culture trying to live as an Aboriginal person.”

Another participant spoke of herself and her younger brother:

“We have both learned so much more about our culture like the importance of funerals.”

One young participant who was adopted as a baby by a non-Aboriginal family, left home to find his identity. He explained how he learnt from other Aboriginal people whom he had met:

“Even though I was spaced out a lot of the time, I learnt so much from these Aboriginal people, something that stuck out for me was how they shared just about everything with me. The old people would give me something to eat and a bed for the night if I needed it. I spun out how I only went to their place with their son, nephew or grandson. They took me in and they never judged me, they just accepted me for what I was and at that time I was a druggy.”

Some participants spoke of learning from personal experiences throughout life and not making the same mistake again. A male participant in his mid-40s and in an executive position explained:

“I took on board the attitude that you shouldn’t count your chickens before they hatch so I learnt from that.”

Others spoke of learning as an important part of being resilient:

“But I think the resilient part was learning from it and ok umm asking how to turn this around.”

Some believed that they learnt to be resilient. The following participant learnt to be resilient as he wanted to see change for his people. Change for a better way of life:

“So I became resilient or I learned to become resilient because I wanted change for my people. They needed a better way of life especially for their health.”

Learning was also an important component of empowerment in one participant’s life:

“I got sick of being robbed and so I asked the boss’ wife to teach me how to count and she did. I hated going into the bank, but the boss’ wife she made me telling me, ‘If you want to save money you must learn how to put it in the bank’, so I learnt to bank money.”

Learning for many Aboriginal people is a way of surviving. Most participants saw the importance of learning about their culture. Others saw the benefits of learning from personal experience, while others established learning as a means of empowerment. Some believed they learned to be resilient to help forge a better way of life for themselves and their people.

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