Refuse. Resist. Rebuild.
I went camping over the Christmas holidays. I always do. There is this place that I have camped at every year of my life. My parents took me there as a baby, a child and a teenager. As I got older, I took my own friends there. One day I will take my own children there.
This place is special to me. There are certain places I always visit when I am there. Particular rituals. I check how a certain tree is growing. I examine the water levels of the river. I look for a certain hidey place I first found as a child. I remember the events that have transpired here in the past. So much of my life has been lived in this place. I spread the ashes of two of my dogs here. I feel connected to this place. I feel like I belong in this place. Indulgently, I believe that part of this place belongs to me too. Not in a legal or binding way… but it belongs to my memories, to my anticipated future, to my life.
I always spend at least half of every day there just watching the river, watching the trees. There is a depth to this connection, this emotion that I can’t think about in words, let alone explain to another person. I just don’t have the words for it and I wonder if I even want the words for it. Perhaps this connection to this place has an intensity that does not require an explanation.
Anyway. This year, I bring a book with me to read- Peter Read’s ‘Belonging: Australians, Place and Aboriginal Ownership’. I had wanted this book for a while and found it in a second hand book shop, on special, months ago while returning from another camping trip. It sat on my bookshelf until now. Once I began reading this book about how non-Aboriginal people understand and sustain their connections to the colonised land of Australia, I was pleased to read this on the land I sustain a connection to. It made sense to read these words and think these ideas when I was in this place. I have found very little Aboriginal history of this place I camp in (but I wonder if I know how to look for this… can I ‘read’ the bush to understand what it is telling me about its history?). This year, I looked at the trees and wondered who looked at these before me. Whose place was this? Who was this land stolen from? Can I enjoy this place without considering the connections and disconnections that made it possible for me to be here?
Peter quotes David Tacey’s words in which he says ‘we have not only stolen Aboriginal land, destroyed the tribal culture, raped the women and the environment but we now ask for their spirituality as well’. This jolts me from my musings about the bush. My interest in Aboriginal cultures and histories has grown from my teaching in early childhood services. It is a problematic thing to ‘teach’ another’s culture; we talk about the ‘tourist’* thing disparagingly, but I wonder, could we ever be more than ‘tourists’ in someone else’s culture? I am not an Aboriginal person. I am an Anglo-Celtic Australian. Yet I am expected, as the EYLF says, to promote a “greater understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ways of knowing and being” (DEEWR, 2009, p.13). I’m not saying I shouldn’t have to do this; I think it is absolutely vital that I do do this. I’m just saying it’s not an easy or straightforward thing to do.
If I want to offer more than a tokenistic, ‘tourist’ understanding of Aboriginal cultures (and I do) then is this requesting their spirituality? Their ‘ways of being’? I saw Miriam Guigni talk a while back and she said ‘it’s like someone is always knocking on your door, asking who you are’.
Can I demand this of somebody else?
Can I demand this, knowing the history of white colonisation of Australia?
Can I demand this, if I feel like I am asking for someone’s spirituality?
If I cannot articulate my own connections to the land I belong on, then how could I expect someone else to articulate their connections to the land for me to then articulate to others?
Can I demand something so intensely personal?
I become upset thinking about this. I would say that I am very interested in Aboriginal cultures- but I know that this interest grew out of trying to do a good job and fulfill the requirements set to me, thinking this would make me look like a good teacher.
Can I demand this, if it’s my reputation as a ‘good teacher’ at stake?
Can I demand someone else’s spirituality to make me look like I can do my job properly?
I am extremely conscious that I am a non-Aboriginal person ‘teaching’ about Aboriginal culture to (mostly) other non-Aboriginal people. The EYLF says that I should seek “engagement with Elders” (DEEWR, 2009, p.23) to help with this. This is reasonable, however, it supposes that each tribal area has Elders and also has enough Elders to assist with early childhood education and that the Elders are not already stretched with their commitments to the community. I know who the Elders are in the area I work and live in and because of this, I also know that they are extremely busy. I don’t think that soothing my anxieties over whether I am being a colonising, spirituality-stealing teacher would be high on their priority list. And I also don’t think it should be. I need to do this thinking, this intellectual and emotional perplexing for myself. If I were just passed an answer, a solution, a formula then this would mean little to me.
I don’t know what the answer is here.
I don’t know if I want an answer, a conclusion to this philosophical and practical dilemma I have thought and taught myself into.
If I have an ‘answer’, then I stop struggling with these thoughts and my teaching.
If I stop struggling with these thoughts, then I would have reached a position that I can comfortably ‘teach’ as a non-Aboriginal person about Aboriginal cultures to other non-Aboriginal people.
I will never reach that.
I wrote this to be published on January 26. This day is known by many names and means many different things. It is on this day that I remind myself that I will never feel comfortable teaching about another’s culture, but that I will continue to think, to consider, to struggle and to remember that I live and work and learn and belong on stolen land. I don’t always know where these thoughts and struggles will take me; I don’t always know how they will be represented in my teaching. But it feels important to keep having them, to never think that I know the correct way to think-continue-teach indefinitely.
I will accept and relish the tensions this brings me.
(* The ‘tourist’ thing explains what a tourist to that culture would see- the food, the festival, the clothes- but visit only for a short time and learn very little about what it means to be a person living within that culture and their lived, everyday experiences.)
© Jane de Belleville (Guest Pirate) 2014
Anarchy & the EYLF Pirates. Refuse, Resist, Rebuild.