Not My Culture – is a short animated conversation on Alcohol, other drugs and indigenous culture. “Strong and deadly – true culture is strength!”
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Filmed on location in the Northern Territory, ANIJA is an award-winning release from Anindilyakwa Executive Producer Muriel Jaragba, and multi award-winning director David Hansen. The story follows 10-year-old Roy and his 2-year-old sister Desley. Life for Roy is tricky, his parents drink too much and the only person he can trust is far away. When Roy calls on his grandmother for help, she takes matters into her own hands. ANIJA is a harsh and uplifting tale of one family’s struggle to deal with problems from alcohol.
“What makes ANIJA unique is that it was devised with the Anindilyakwa people of Groote Eylandt and Bickerton Island”, says director, David Hansen. “We cast local people and the film uses local language to tell a story that comes from the community itself”, he adds. Made for Anindilyakwa Land Council by The Perfect World, together with Groote Eylandt Health Clinics and the University of Sydney, ANIJA is a medium length film that is receiving rave reviews from its pre-release screenings across Australia:
“ANIJA is a very realistic portrayal of community life, filmed in a culturally sensitive manner. It goes straight to your heart and makes you feel as if you are in the film.”
Individual resilience: Individual resilience appeared to be a strong contributor to better managing the impact of racism in community. This resilience was often demonstrated in community members who might variously be supported by a kinship network, who were educated, those with a strong sense of identity and those who were in employment and had stable housing.
“When there’s problems, everyone gets together to try to help. We (as Elders) have meetings about it, everyone comes in… people are helpful. We (the Elders) had a gathering, brought kids from homes and the streets and brought them here and fed them and played games. It was a good day.” Elder research participants
“Being well is about being strong and staying strong. Being a father and black fella… I want to try to help others on the street. Seeing others succeed because of my help, seeing others doing good is feeling well yourself. It makes you want to push more. I want to be a mentor to someone to see where they are coming from. Staying on the positive side. Being a role model. Talking and listening helps…” Community member research participants
“When you have a job, you don’t think about alcohol and drugs and all that.”
Community member research participant
“Some people too scared to talk. Given a Panadol and told to go home – didn’t explain what was wrong with them. Need someone to break down the jargon. Lot of people don’t want to say their problem. Lot not well educated.” Community member research participant
“Getting drunk and passing out was a way of coping and sleeping.”
Participant with lived experience
AOD USE Causes Trauma and Adds to Intergenerational Trauma
In a focus group with three generations of women from the same family who had spent the night in an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander operated diversionary centre, there was a shared view that the trauma they had experienced (either as a victim survivor or a witness) from domestic violence would not be visited on their children because ‘they were safe’. Being safe meant that they had agreed that the children (of the youngest generation) be taken into care by Child Protection.
‘Kids see drinking, smoking and violence and copy that behaviour. Our kids are protected from seeing that – they are in a safe house.’
Looking at this situation through a trauma lens would suggest that the controlled emotionless state of these women’s narration potentially demonstrates a level of disassociation, enabled to manage their lack of control over being able to care for and protect their children, and the pain associated with removals. Their story shows both collective complex intergenerational trauma and individual complex trauma.
Self-shame and stigma from family and other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members was more present in research participants who primarily use other drugs compared to research participants who primarily use alcohol.
“I know it affected my family… I couldn’t really support them, even for food… I know I was a bad father… It hurts now to know this. When I learned (my daughter) was pregnant I thought I need to think about my grandchild now, I can’t be like that.” Participants with lived experience
“I come here every day because I know they will be here. They are always here. There’s no surprises.” (A local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation) are doing good, cause they are always here they are reliable they never change. In other places you need to have appointments, can you come back, whatever. You can just drop in here, Murri time.” Participants with lived experience
Finally, a few participants talked about the importance of religion in their lives and described how their interactions with religious organisations and clerics were instrumental to their recovery and sustained wellbeing.
“I started talking to (a priest) and realised what I was doing wrong… I believe in Him now. I pray and He gives me strength.” Participant with lived experience
(Excerpts from “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities, Families and Individuals “Don’t Judge and Listen!” Experiences of stigma and discrimination related to problematic alcohol and other drug use” (QLD Mental Health Commission, March 2020)
Resiliency for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
We can all be resilient and for thousands of years Indigenous people in this land we call Australia have been resilient – resilient to the harsh environment, resilient to colonialism, resilient to industrialism, resilient to dispossession, resilient to trauma, etc. But a consistent thing through all of this has been a connection to land and culture. They draw strength from who they are and their connections to each other, the land and their customs. This has never changed. If they live in the city, on a rural block or out bush; there is strength for them in the ability to be grounded ‘on country’. Who an Indigenous person is, is linked to where they come from (their ‘country’ and culture – their mob) and who they are related to. So, when trauma or addiction or racism attack their lives they have a safe place, and a place to be refreshed/revitalised by immersing themselves on their land and in their culture.
The land and culture are consistencies in life. The fact that they don’t change and can be experienced will give strength in a changing, technological, media-rich, individualistic, hedonistic western world that is vying for the total attention of Australian inhabitants. Land and culture give opportunity to be strong and resilient when the waves of the modern world are crashing down and lives are being ruined – because it reminds people what is important. Family. Culture. Faith. Place.
We all need to draw strength from somewhere in ‘our ever-changing world’ and there are a few points to make here:
There are a lot of pressures on everyone in our modern world, and as we mature the common thought is that some ‘childish’ things get left behind in the process of our sophistication. Things like security blankets, religion, culture activities, family dependence, etc but why do they need to be ‘left behind’ if they help to ground us for our sanity and resilience. The pressure, even psychologically, to ‘move on’ is another constant pressure on Indigenous people to embrace and be swallowed up by the new world. Perpetuating the dispossession they experience that is far more than just physical and land related. Racism is underlined by conformity and conformity undermines resiliency. Indigenous resiliency that is linked to ‘the oldest culture’ has a lot going for it that we can learn from in our modern world – centred on family and relationships/connectedness, grounded in the land and expressed through a strong/rich culture. The old ways are still good ways!!! The next time someone suggests you stop or slow down and smell the roses, it might be better to stop, take of your shoes/socks and sit by the campfire.
‘We recognise that the social, emotional, spiritual and cultural wellbeing of the whole community is paramount in determining the health and wellbeing of individual members. The holistic nature of our knowledge and cultures locates health in culture, community and kinship networks.’
Janine Mohamed, CEO, Congress of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nurses and Midwives (Closing Gap Report 2019 page 119)
“…Smoking and tobacco use, is the leading contributor to cancer, respiratory and circulatory diseases (mainly the cardiovascular diseases), and accounted for 12 per cent of the total Indigenous disease burden in 2011 (AIHW 2016). There has been some progress in controlling prevalence of these risk factors. Smoking prevalence for Indigenous Australians (aged 15 years and over) has declined significantly from 51 to 42 per cent between 2002 and 2014–15. The rate of drinking alcohol at lifetime risky levels has also declined from 19 per cent to 15 per cent, between 2008 and 2014–15, among Indigenous Australians (aged 15 and over) (AHMAC 2016). However, while some health effects of the positive changes in risk factor prevalence may be immediate, there is a long lag between changes in risk behaviours and the full impact upon mortality outcomes. For example, the long latent period for lung cancer which can be up to 30 years, means that, despite falls in smoking rates, smoking related deaths may continue to rise over the next decade, before peaking (Lovett, Thurber & Maddox 2017). Page 134