- freely available
Genealogy 2019, 3(2), 23; https://doi.org/10.3390/genealogy3020023
‘She’—our founding mothers, the first women who have walked this land for millennia, and have birthed and nurtured centuries of our people into existence.‘She’, who has carried our stories and knowledge, so we hold in our hands today our societal values of intergenerational learning, care and responsibility for our land, our families and communities. Embedded within these values are intrinsic lessons of our complex kinship structures and cultural practices. These teach us of collective leadership, collaborative and inclusive decision-making, negotiation and cooperation, the reciprocal sharing of resources, life-long education and the foundational understanding that an individual’s health and wellbeing is intimately attached to the health of our country, our surrounding environments, and our families and communities.(Oscar 2018).
1. Indigenous Kinship Systems
Indigenous relationality is recognized as the life force, and that which supports and nourishes life.With the awareness that one’s breath is shared by all surrounding life, that one’s emergence into the world was possibly caused by some of the life-forms around ones environment, and that one is responsible for its mutual survival, it becomes apparent that it is related to you; that it shares a kinship with you and with all humans, as does a family or tribe. A reciprocal relationship has been fostered with the realisation that humans affect nature and nature affects humans. This awareness influences indigenous interactions with the environment. It is these interactions, those cultural practices of living with a place that are manifestations of kincentric ecology’
In Aboriginal english, the word ‘country’ is both a common noun and a proper noun. People talk about country in the same way they would talk about a person: they speak to country, sing to country, visit country, worry about country, grieve for country and long for country. People say that country knows, smell, hears, takes notice, takes care, and feels sorry or happy. Country is a living entity with a yesterday, a today and a tomorrow, with consciousness, action and a will towards life. Because of this richness, country is home and peace, nourishment for the body, mind, spirit; heart’s ease …Country is multi-dimensional—it consists of people, animals, plants, Dreamings, and underground, earth, soils minerals and waters, surface water, air. There is sea country and land country; in some areas people talk about sky country. Country has origins and a future. It exists both in time and through time. As I use the term here I refer to areas of land and/or sea including subsurface and sky above, in so far as Aboriginal people identify all these components as being part of country’.
2. Kinship and Women’s Law
In the old days, the law stories of women lived in the land and held a place in the lives of the peoples they belonged to, but now the law-full woman is diminished… Our stories of women are often sacred and secret, and there is a reason for this, for we can see the danger of women’s stories becoming subverted and becoming something else when they are retold within patriarchal frameworks’.
Bell claimed that the differences in her findings were due to situating and locating herself almost exclusively in the women’s camp, the Jilmi, and being given access to women’s business. Coming from a woman’s standpoint gave a different perspective: ‘[n]ew understandings emerge when women are allowed to speak’ (Bell 1983 p. 230). Bell’s research directly challenged the previous depictions of Aboriginal people that positioned women as having little or less power than men, and led to considerable debate. In the epilogue of the reprinted Daughters of the Dreaming (Bell 1983), Bell concluded that male perspectives of the field continue to be used despite work like hers.Here was a confident group of women secure in the value of their own knowledge and worth, whose self-perceptions begin within their own ritual and social worlds and extended to the wider society. In the attitudes of men and women, it was obvious that the body of knowledge and beliefs about the ancestral travels was shared jointly as a sacred trust, but it was also obvious that men and women had distinct and separate responsibilities for the ritual maintenance of this heritage’.
Aboriginal women’s lives, like that of Aboriginal men, commenced in the spiritual domain, was lived with deep connections to the life forces of all living beings in the earth, sky and waters and finally the life of an Aboriginal woman ended in a return to the spiritual world.Their lives were not ones of drudgery, deprivation, humiliation and exploitation, because of their lack of penis and attendant phallic culture, nor was their self-image and identity bound up solely with their child rearing functions. Instead I found the women to be extremely serious in the upholding, observance and transmission of their religious heritage. Religion permeated every aspect of their lives—lives which are nonetheless full of good humour and a sense of fun’.
The female symbol of the circle also connects to the holistic epistemology, ontology and axiology of Indigenous kinship systems which are also known as the Grandmother or Granny Laws. The following section explores this in more depth.‘Yilpinji is achieved through a creative integration of myth, song, gesture and design against a backdrop of country. The circle, the quintessential female symbol, finds expression in the body designs, the rolling hand gestures and patterns traced out by the dancing feet. Certain yilpinji and health/curing designs are the same, because, as Kaytej women recognise, love, health, and sexual satisfaction are intertwined at the personal and community level’.
3. Grandmother’s Law and Birthing on Country: Kinship and Social and Emotional Wellbeing
The Grandmothers’ Law underpins the Birthing on Country movement (Kildea et al. 2018). The word and concept ‘borning’ is also used as a way of describing the culturally specific process of caring for women through the birth process which is an integral part of Indigenous cultures in Australia and which has been practiced for many thousands of years prior to colonization (Carter et al. 1987). An important part of the movement of Indigenous self-determination within the comprehensive primary health care section, Birthing on Country restores women’s kinship connections to Country with the guidance of women Elders and healers, and affirms the spiritual and cultural empowerment of the birthing process. This cultural practice is defended and supported by the Indigenous women’s group NAICC: National Voice for Our Children, a powerful, community-controlled organization dedicated to protecting children, young people, and families and strengthening self-determination through cultural identity (SNAICC 2019).Grandmother’s Law is one half of Land Law where men and women hold balanced positions with reciprocal responsibilities for maintaining societal equilibrium.Grandfathers look outwardly, protecting the camp. Grandmothers look inwardly, nurturing new generations of respectful, responsible and resilient youth who will ‘look after country’ to benefit both land and people.Reinstating this teaching system within our respective lands develops continuous knowledge of children’s ‘place’ in society and responsibilities as parents.
- they are community based and governed,
- provide for the inclusion of traditional practices,
- involve connections with land and country,
- incorporate a holistic definition of health,
- value Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander as well as other ways of knowing and learning, and
- encompass risk assessment and service delivery and are culturally competent’ (Birthing on Country Position Statement 2016, p. 3).
As has been reiterated throughout this article, such obligations are part of kinship laws which support the flourishing of SEWB, and are expressed through Grandmothers’ Law.The Sun Woman illuminates the future and the future is a return to the beginnings as though we have never left them. Our songs and stories gave us knowledge for survival, to live a good life in harmony with all things. The song law passed from one generation to the next and was taken on by each generation as an obligation and commitment to the spirit ancestors. The original agreements entered into are still alive, as are the obligations to honour them.
[C]ountry is where my people need to be able to draw positive emotions, meaning and purpose, self-esteem and resilience. The land provides what we call in the Bunuba language Ngarranggani. Ngarranggani lies at the heart of our culture; it is timeless, and it is all past, present and future. It is our dreaming, our creator, our kinship, morality and ethics. We are of the land, and to care for and protect the land is to nurture and safeguard our families and our future. This intimately entwined relationship of land, language and culture is common to Indigenous peoples across the world. Language is a vehicle to transmit the cultural strengths I’ve referred to, and to heal our communities and reconcile our nation.
Conflicts of Interest
- Bell, Diane. 1983. Daughters of the Dreaming. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. [Google Scholar]
- Berndt, Catherine Helen. 1965. Women and the ‘Secret’ Life. In Aboriginal Man in Australian Society. Edited by R. M. Brendt and C. H. Berndt. Sydney: Angus & Robertson, pp. 238–82. [Google Scholar]
- Berndt, Catherine Helen. 1981. Interpretations and ‘facts’ in Aboriginal Australia. In Woman the Gatherer. Edited by F. Dahlberg. New Haven: Yale University Press, pp. 153–203. [Google Scholar]
- Berndt, Catherine Helen. 1986. Digging sticks and spears, or, the two sexed model. In Women’s Role in Aboriginal Society; Edited by F. Gale. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, pp. 64–84. [Google Scholar]
- Berndt, Catherine Helen. 1989. Retrospect, and prospect: Looking back over 50 years. In Women Rites and Sites: Aboriginal Women’s Cultural Knowledge. Edited by P. Brock. Sydney: Allen & Unwin, pp. 1–20. [Google Scholar]
- Berndt, Ronald Murray, and Catherine H. Berndt. 1988. Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. Magic and Sorcery [Online] World of the First Australians: Aboriginal Traditional Life–Past and Present, 5th ed. Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, pp. 304–31. ISBN 0855751843. Available online: http://search.informit.com.au/documentSummary;dn=462674716525529;res=IELIND (accessed on 29 December 2015).
- Biddle, Nicholas. 2011. Physical and Mental Health. Measures of Indigenous Wellbeing and Their Determinants across the Life Course. CAEPR Lecture Series, Lecture 3; Canberra: Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research, Australian National University, Available online: http://caepr.anu.edu.au/sites/default/files/page/2011/01/Lecture03Paper.pdf (accessed on 25 April 2019).
- Biddle, Nicholas, and Hannah Swee. 2012. The relationship between wellbeing and Indigenous land, language and culture in Australia. Australian Geographer 43: 215–32. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Birthing on Country Position Statement. 2016. Available online: https://www.catsinam.org.au/static/uploads/files/birthing-on-country-position-statement-endorsed-march-2016-wfaxpyhvmxrw.pdf (accessed on 25 April 2019).
- Birthing on Noongar Boodjar (Cultural Security & Aboriginal Birthing Women) Project Recommendations. 2018. Available online: https://www.catsinam.org.au/static/uploads/files/birthing-on-noongar-boodjar-project-recommendations-final-wfgeigmidylu.pdf (accessed on 25 April 2019).
- Blaser, Mario, Ravi De Costa, Deborah McGregor, and William D. Coleman, eds. 2011. ‘Reconfiguring the web of life: Indigenous peoples, relationality, and globalization. In Indigenous Peoples and Autonomy: Insights for a Global Age. Vancouver: University of British Colombia Press, pp. 1–26. [Google Scholar]
- Brock, Peggy, ed. 1989. Women, Rites and Sites: Aboriginal Women’s Cultural Knowledge. Sydney: Allen & Unwin. [Google Scholar]
- Burgess, P. Christopher, Helen L. Berry, Wendy Gunthorpe, and Ross S. Bailie. 2008. Development and preliminary validation of the ‘Caring for Country’ questionnaire: Measurement of an Indigenous Australian health determinant. International Journal for Equity in Health 7: 26. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
- Burgess, P. Christopher, Fay H. Johnston, Helen L. Berry, Joseph McDonnell, Dean Yibarbuk, Charlie Gunabarra, Albert Mileran, and Ross S. Bailie. 2009. Healthy country, healthy people: The relationship between Indigenous health status and caring for country. Medical Journal of Australia 190: 567–72. [Google Scholar] [PubMed]
- Central Australian Aboriginal Congress (CAAC). 2017. Congress Alukura Celebrates 30 Years. September 24. Available online: https://www.caac.org.au/news-events/media-releases/2017/9/congress-alukura-celebrates-30-years (accessed on 25 April 2019).
- Carter, Betty, Eileen Hussen, Lana Abbott, Margaret Liddle, Mary Wighton, Maureen McCormack, Pip Duncan, and Pamela Nathan. 1987. Borning: Pmere Laltyeke Anwerne Ampe Mpwaretkeke, Congress Alukura by the Grandmother’s Law. Australian Aboriginal Studies 2. [Google Scholar]
- Coffin, Juli. 2007. Rising to the challenge in Aboriginal health by creating cultural security. Aboriginal and Islander Health Worker Journal 31: 22–24. [Google Scholar]
- Coffin, Juli. 2018. Birthing on Noongar Boodjar with Cultural Security. Keynote address presented at the Birthing on Noongar Boodjar Symposium. Available online: https://www.telethonkids.org.au/our-research/early-environment/developmental-origins-of-child-health/aboriginal-maternal-health-and-child-development/the-cultural-security-of-aboriginal-mothers/ (accessed on 25 April 2019).
- Country Needs People: Protecting Nature, Transforming Lives. 2018. Strong Women on Country: The Success of Women Caring for Country as Indigenous Ranges and on Indigenous Protected Areas. Available online: countryneedspeople.org.au (accessed on 25 April 2019).
- Daigle, Michelle. 2016. Awawanenitakik: The spatial politics of recognition and relational geographies of Indigenous self-determination. The Canadian Geographer 60: 1–11. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Dietsche, Elaine, Tanya Martin, Pamela Shackelton, Carmel Davies, Margaret McLeod, and Margaret Alston. 2011. Australian Aboriginal kinship: A means to enhance maternal well-being. Women and Birth: Journal of the Australian College of Midwives 24: 58–64. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
- Dudgeon, Pat, and Abigail Bray. 2019. Reproductive justice and culturally safe approaches to sexual and reproductive health for Indigenous women and girls. In Routledge International Handbook of Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health. Edited by Ussher Jane, Joan Chrisler and Janette Perz. London: Routledge, in press. [Google Scholar]
- Dudgeon, Pat, and Roz Walker. 2015. Decolonizing Australian psychology: Discourses, strategies, and practice. Journal of Social and Political Psychology 3: 276–97. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Dudgeon, Pat, Bray Abiogai, Belinda D’Costa, and Roz Walker. 2017. De-colonising psychology: Validating social and emotional wellbeing. Australian Psychologist 52: 316–25. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Elkin, Adolphus Pete. 1993. Aboriginal Men of High Degree: Initiation and Sorcery in the World’s Oldest Tradition. Rochester: Inner Traditions/Bear & Co. [Google Scholar]
- Gale, Fay. 1970. Women’s Role in Aboriginal Society; Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies.
- Goodale, Jane Carter. 1974. Tiwi Wives: A Study of the Women of Melville Island, North Australia. Washington, DC: University of Washinton Press. [Google Scholar]
- Graham, James P. H. 2005. He apiti hono, he tatai hono: That which is joined remains an unbroken line—Using whakapapa (genealogy) as the basis for an Indigenous Research framework. Australian Journal of Indigenous Education 34: 86–95. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Harrison, Max Dulumunmun. 2009. My People’s Dreaming: An Aboriginal Elder Speaks on Life, Land, Spirit and Forgiveness. Warriewood: Finch Publishing. [Google Scholar]
- Hayman-Reber, M. 2018. Removal of Djap Wurrung Trees an ‘Act of Cultural Terrorism, 19th June, NITV News. Available online: https://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/nitv-news/article/2018/06/18/removal-sacred-djap-wurrung-trees-act-cultural-terrorism (accessed on 25 April 2019).
- Hoover, Elizabeth. 2018. Environmental reproductive justice: Intersections in an American Indian community impact by environmental contamination. Environmental Sociology 4: 8–21. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Kaberry, Phyllis. 1939. Aboriginal Woman: Sacred and Profane. London and England: Routledge & Kegan Paul. [Google Scholar]
- Kearney, Amanda. 2017. Violence in Place: Cultural and Environmental Wounding. Oxon and New York: Routledge. [Google Scholar]
- Kildea, Sue, Sophie Hickey, Carmel Neson, Jody Currie, Adrian Carson, Maree Reynolds, Sue Kruske, Roianne West, Anton Clifford, and Machellee Kosiak. 2018. Birthing on country (in our community): A case study of engaging stakeholders and developing a best-practice Indigenous maternity service in an urban setting. Australian Health Review 42: 230–38. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
- Kindersley, D. 2018. The Mythology Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained. London and New York: Random House. [Google Scholar]
- Kothari, Ashish, and Shrishtee Bajpai. 2017. Rivers and Human Rights: We are the River, the River is Us? Engage: Economic and Political Weekly. Available online: http://www.epw.in/engage/artile/we-are-the-river-river-us (accessed on 25 April 2019).
- Lowell, Anne, Sue Kildea, Marlene Liddle, Barbara Cox, and Barbara Paterson. 2015. Supporting Aboriginal knowledge and practice in health care: Lessons from a qualitative evaluation of the Strong Women, Strong Babies, Strong Culture Program. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 15: 19. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef] [PubMed]
- Moreton-Robinson, Aileen. 2017. Relationality: A key presupposition of an indigenous social research paradigm. In Sources and Methods in Indigenous Studies. Edited by Andersen Chris and O’Brien Jeani. New York: Routledge, pp. 69–77. [Google Scholar]
- Neijie, Bill. 1989. Story about Feeling. Broome: Magabala Books. [Google Scholar]
- Ngangk Yira Research Centre. 2019. Available online: https://www.murdoch.edu.au/research/institutes-centres/health-futures-institute/ngangk-yira-aboriginal-health-research-centre (accessed on 25 April 2019).
- Oscar, June. 2017. Resilience and Reconstruction: Women’s Agency in Rebuilding Strong Communities. Griffith Review. Available online: https://griffithreview.com/articles/resilience-reconstruction-womens-agency-strong-communities-june-oscar/ (accessed on 25 April 2019).
- Oscar, June. 2018. ‘Because of Her, We Can’ National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s Conference. Thursday 12th July 2018. Australian Human Rights Commission. Available online: https://www.humanrights.gov.au/news/speeches/because-her-we-can-national-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-women-s-conference (accessed on 25 April 2019). [Google Scholar]
- Powell, Dana E., and Andrew Curley. 2008. K’e, Hozho, and non-governmental politics on the Navajo Nation: ontologies of difference manifest in Environmental Activism. Anthropological Quarterly 81: 17–58. [Google Scholar]
- Preaud, Martin. 2009. Country, Law and Culture (Anthropology of Indigenous Networks from the Kimberley). Ph.D. thesis, James Cook University, Douglas, Australia. [Google Scholar]
- Ramsamy, Nicole. 2014. Indigenous birthing in remote locations: Grandmothers’ Law and government medicine. In Yatdjuligin: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nursing & Midwifery Care. Edited by Odette Best and B. Fredericks. Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, pp. 102–19. [Google Scholar]
- Randall, Tjilpi. 2009. The Land Own Us. Available online: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w0sWIVR1hXw (accessed on 25 April 2019).
- Reo, Nicholas J., and Laura A. Ogden. 2018. Anishnaabe Aki: An indigenous perspective on the global threat of invasive species. Sustainability Science 13: 1443–52. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Rose, Deborah Bird. 1996. Nourishing Terrains: Australian Aboriginal Voices of Landscape and Wilderness; Canberra: Australian Heritage Commission.
- Rose, Deborah, Diana James, and Christine Watson. 2003. Indigenous Kinship with the Natural World in New South Wales; Huntsville: NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.
- Salmon, Enrique. 2000. Kincentric ecology: Indigenous perceptions of the human-nature relationship. Ecologcal Applications 10: 1327–32. [Google Scholar]
- SNAICC. 2019. SNAICC: National Voice for Our Children. Available online: https://www.snaicc.org.au (accessed on 25 April 2019).
- Wall, Colleen. 2010. Law and Story-Strings. Queensland Historical Atlas: Histories, Cultures, Landscapes. Available online: https://www.qhatlas.com.au/content/law-and-story-strings (accessed on 25 April 2019).
- Wall, Colleen. 2017. Aboriginal Grandmothers Law. Aboriginal Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. Available online: https://aiatsis.gov.au/publications/presentations/aboriginal-grandmothers-law (accessed on 31 August 2018). [Google Scholar]
- Ward, Nura Nungalka. 2018. Grandmothers’ Law. Broome: Magabala Books. [Google Scholar]
- Watson, Irene. 1998. Naked peoples: Rules and regulations. Law Text Culture 4: 1–17. [Google Scholar]
- Watson, Irene. 2008. De-Colonising the Space: Dreaming Back to Country. Heartsick for Country. pp. 82–100. Available online: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2476804 (accessed on 25 April 2019).
- Watson, Irene. 2014. First Nations Stories, Grandmother’s Law: Too Many Stories too Tell. pp. 46–53. Available online: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2571143 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2571143 (accessed on 25 April 2019).
- Watson, Irene. 2016. Raw Law: Aboriginal Peoples, Colonialism and International Law. New York: Routledge. [Google Scholar]
- Wilson, Nicole J., and Jody Inkster. 2018. Respecting water: Indigenous water governance, ontologies, and the politics of kinship. Environment and Planning E: Nature and Space 1: 516–38. [Google Scholar] [CrossRef]
- Wooltorton, Sandra, Len Collard, and Pierre Horwitz. 2017. The land still speaks: Ni, Katitj! PAN: Philosophy, Activism, Nature 13: 57–67. [Google Scholar]
© 2019 by the authors. Licensee MDPI, Basel, Switzerland. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY) license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).