"The Dreaming" is the belief of many Aboriginal groups that Aboriginal people have been in Australia since the beginning.
During this significant period the ancestral spirits came up out of the earth and down from the sky to walk on the land where they created and shaped its land formations, rivers, mountains, forests and deserts. These were created while the ancestors traveled, hunted and fought. They also created all the people, animals and vegetation that were to be a part of the land and laid down the patterns their lives were to follow. It was the spirit ancestors who gave Aboriginal people the lores, customs and codes of conduct, and who are the source of the songs, dances, designs, languages, and rituals that are the basis of Aboriginal religious expression. These ancestors were spirits who appeared in a variety of forms. When their work was completed the ancestral spirits went back into the earth, the sky and into the animals, land formation, and rivers. The ancestors-beings are ‘alive’ in the spirit of Australian Aboriginals.
Aboriginal people and culture are grounded in a non-European/Western world view.
European/Western world views central of:
- Progress and change - the world progresses and things improve
- Roles and functions - things get done in society because people have roles and functions.
- Time is linear and measurable
- Counting, measuring, dissecting and analysis
- Written culture
The Dreaming is a different world view. At its heart are ideas of:
- Continuity - things stay the same
- Relationships are how things get done
- We don’t own the land - we care for it - we are custodians
- Whatever we have it is shared with everybody else.
- Holistic and relational
- Oral culture.
Some of the practical effects on providing support to Aboriginal people who are coming from a culture grounding in the dreaming, the land and kinship (rather than a European/Western world view) are:
- A more fluid approach to the start and finish times of meetings
- Meetings have a gathering aspect and may not stick to rigid structures but will/can achieve the same business outcome
- Consultations and conversations can continue to go on even after ‘the decision’ seems to have been made - endings are harder to define.
- People can give away goods provided by service providers because someone else they have kinship ties with needed it more than they did.
- Stories and times for stories are important
- People are holistic (not fragmented functions).
Implications for service delivery
All staff working with Aboriginal clients need to have a general understanding the "The Dreaming and the beliefs of Aboriginal people" and how this impacts on Aboriginal people in the day to day.
The service provider will dialogue with the local Aboriginal community to gain an understanding of appropriate ways to work with Aboriginal people. The following practical tips and suggestions may be useful.
Understanding of ‘The Dreaming’ and the beliefs of Aboriginal people
1. Service providers need to develop an understanding of ‘The Dreaming’ and the beliefs of Aboriginal people, acknowledging that Aboriginal people have lived in Australia since the beginning of time. This view differs to the Western view of Australian history and can impact on the way Aboriginal peoples access or utilize non Aboriginal Services.
2. It is important to recognize that Indigenous cultural behaviours may be different to the non-Indigenous community and as a consequence, develop flexible work practices to accommodate this.
3. Kinship is an integral part of Aboriginal culture and may impact on the way Indigenous peoples access and utilize services. The concept of family is very different for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It often includes a much wider extended family, sometimes placed across several households. There is a clear focus on mutual obligations and sharing within the extended family. This can mean that the services and resources you provide to an Aboriginal client may be redistributed across other households. The care and financial support of a child may also be shared by the extended family, with different members taking on different roles. It is important to understand the concept of kinship and offer a service that addresses the family obligations that many Indigenous clients experience.
4. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples may not live and work at the same pace or to the same schedule as non-Indigenous peoples. This means that your client may be what non-Indigenous people view as late for their appointment or miss the appointment or other time lines such as public transport. When Service providers are working with the Aboriginal community they need to be attuned to the Aboriginal communities’ sense of time and take that into account when organising appointments, meetings, etc. It is essential to be flexible to ensure that Aboriginal people are not deterred from accessing services and ensuring services are available when the time is right for them.
5. Elders are respected members of the Aboriginal community. Their community relies upon them to give advice and pass on knowledge. The traditional meaning of an Aboriginal Elder is someone who has gained recognition within their community as a custodian of knowledge and lore and who has permission to disclose cultural knowledge and beliefs.
In some Aboriginal communities there may be individuals who are Recognized Elders. These are people who are respected by the Aboriginal community as Elders but have not necessarily undergone traditional initiation ceremonies.
When working with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, Service providers need to get to know the Elders and other key Indigenous contacts in Government and non-Government departments. It is important to take time in establishing credibility within the Aboriginal community by building trust and respect and demonstrating that you are there to get to know and assist their community. Each community is different with its own protocols and these should be respected. You can get to know your Aboriginal community by attending and supporting Indigenous events such as NAIDOC Week celebrations, Reconciliation Week activities and introducing your Service to the local Aboriginal Land Council.
Consultation with the Aboriginal community
6. When organizing a meeting or consultation with the Aboriginal community, service providers may need the guidance of Indigenous workers. These workers can introduce and provide a link to the community they work with to ensure that you do not offend important people and community leaders. Some points to consider when meeting with the Aboriginal community include:
- Allow ample time for consultations and meetings; Aboriginal peoples may need extra time to come together and feel comfortable about the meeting. Meetings should be structured and allow time for coming together as a gathering to do business. Ensure there is enough time to reflect on the meeting. You may need to arrange another meeting to answer questions and discuss concerns. Meetings may be done progressively over the day or start the meeting when the majority of expected Aboriginal community members are present;
- Take the time to develop relationships that are equal and genuine. This will ensure that consultations and meeting do not appear tokenistic;
- It is important to consider your presentation and personal appearance when meeting with the Aboriginal community. Ensure your appearance and language reflects a respectful manner;
- Silence should not be misunderstood. It should be respected. The person may be reflecting on what you have said and may want more time to think about the answer to a question;
- It is important to consider your use of eye contact when speaking with Aboriginal peoples. In some circumstances direct eye contact will be appropriate but other people may find it very uncomfortable;
- Where possible follow up any formal contact you have with the Aboriginal community e.g. letters and invitations, with face to face contact. Remember some Aboriginal people lack confidence in reading and writing;
- Chairpersons, Workers and other representatives from the Aboriginal community often do not make immediate decisions. Information from a meeting or consultation may need to be taken to other members of the Aboriginal community to discuss and decide if a decision is made. This can be time consuming so you need to be patient;
- Aboriginal groups may need to revisit a decision reached at a previous meeting. This is important in supporting the group to make a joint decision;
- Documentation in a meeting is important. Take notes so you can clarify priorities and issues with the Aboriginal community;
- Continue to stay in touch and keep the Aboriginal community informed. This will help maintain good relationships and trust;
- The choice of venue is important. The venue needs to be in a place where communities feel comfortable. Consider using a neutral venue if there are fractions within the Aboriginal communities.