The Researcher’s Story

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Aileen Moreton-Robinson,  Jackie Huggins and several others point out, for much of Australia’s history skin signification was used to systematically to decide the fate of generations of Australian Indigenous children.[1] The “whiter” they were the more authorities believed they could be “saved,” and so Indigenous people were separated from each other on the basis of the pigment in their skin. Some Indigenous people maintain that these policies have had a lasting impact on the way many of all background view Indigenous identity, essentially the “blacker” you look the more Indigenous you are considered.[2]

Many Indigenous people in this study argue it is the way you think, act and raised not the colour of your skin, which determines who you are.  Others go further and argue it is not even the way you think, and act any more but what you want to belong to.[3] An added complication to this is that some Indigenous people have observed that being black means you have a materially harder time of it, than being a white Indigenous person.[4] This difference of experience can potentially lead to resentments within the Indigenous community, and as Patricia Dudgeon has shown, this has led to an internal form of racism that some Indigenous people have had to address.[5]

The Researcher’s Story

I give my story in this introduction because it is customary in many Indigenous cultures to share the story of your kinship ties when first meeting someone, and as I am a participant as well as a scholar in the writing world conveyed in this study I believe it important to observe this protocol.

I have been both researcher and researched, interviewee and interviewer in the process of doing my work.[6] The experience of all these positions has given me empathy for the requirements and challenges involved.

My mob are the Angapu and Maipa Fakai clans of the Mekeo, of Papua New Guinea, the French and English of Europe, Bahá’ís and now the writers of Writing Us Mob oral storytelling project.[7] I do not speak any Indigenous language, nor do I do any traditional dances.[8] However, I have an implicit connection with Indigenous cultural values and traditions through my mother, which has become more explicit over time. I have a written copy of my Indigenous family tree and photographs of some of my relatives, because an anthropologist researched my mother’s community for many years and gave me this document.[9] I am a daughter, sister, mother, wife, niece, sister-in law, friend and aunty. My web of social relations is important to me, and nurtures and motivates me in all that I do yet it extends beyond my kin to the world of writers.

I am a writer who feels at home with writers, as writing is something that I feel I can exchange with others. It helps me to reach out across boundaries and feel more comfortable in unfamiliar social spaces. Writing has also helped me to grapple with life’s challenges. I am part of the world of emerging writers, especially those who are actively embarking on the journey to increasing their publication.

In 1995, for the first time I worked as a writer in community, not just as an individual writer, and this has given me some of the most inspiring experiences of my life and planted many of the seeds for this study.[10] I have been in contact with many people comfortable with, and thriving because of having a diverse heritage, but I have also come across those who suffer prejudice, identity crisis, and great difficulties that seem to be from being viewed as different by the wider society, an experience they have not been able to cope with. I have seen people move into a destructive mode where pain shuts out the ability to achieve personal empowerment to transform self, family and communities. On the other hand I have been part of projects where people find pride in their identity through storytelling and writing. As a result of these observations I wanted to do a study that would explore how many Indigenous people see and use writing as a way to achieve healing and empowerment.

Cultures, family and communities have given me access to certain ways of viewing the life-worlds of Indigenous women and particular knowledge systems. They have presented me with unique opportunities, but also with a sense of responsibility and obligation. Personally, it is being a Bahá’í that harmonises all the diversities within me and gives me the strength, courage and conviction to analyse contemporary issues through ethical (what some also call spiritual) principles.[11] Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, states: “True learning is that which is conducive to the well-being of the world, not to pride and self-conceit, or to tyranny, violence and pillage.”[12] It is my hope that this study supports this idea of what true learning is.

[1] Rosalyn Kidd, The Way We Civilize (St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1997) An archival study that illustrates the documented wording of the policies, which disempowered Indigenous peoples in government and other official documents in Queensland.

[2] Dudgeon, “The Complexity of Aboriginal Diversity.” Patricia; Gavey Dudgeon, Darren; Picket, Harry, Working with Indigenous Australia (Perth: WA: Gunada Press, 2000), Patrica Dudgeon, Indigenous Children at School: A Look Beyond the Scenes (Perth: WA: Gunada Press, 2003)

[3] Due to funding available to assist Indigenous people in education, health, the arts and so on, there are criteria set by funding organizations to authenticate identity (to prevent fraud). For discussion of intellectual property see Rosemary van den Berg, “Intellectual Property Rights for Aboriginal People,” in The Strength of Us as Women: Black Women Speak , pp.74-81. & Penny van Toorn, Indigenous Texts and Narratives, Oxford Companion to English Literature, ed. Elizabeth Webby (Oakleigh: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp.19-49.

[4] See Wendy Holland, “Mistaken Identity,” in The Teeth Are Smiling, the Persistence of Racism in Multicultural Australia, ed. Ellie Vasta; Stephen Castles (St Leonards: Allen and Unwin, 1996) pp. 97-111; Melissa Lucashenko, “Many Prisons,”Hecate 28.1 (2002)., pp.139-42.

[5] Dudgeon, “The Complexity of Aboriginal Diversity.” Ngulaig

[6] I was interviewed during the Writing Us Mob project (2001) and also for Gadigal radio during the Pacific Wave Festival (1998).

[7] The Baha’i religion originated in Iran in 1844 and has had people from many cultural, social and religious backgrounds choose to join it. The basic tenets of the Bahá’í Faith are the oneness of humanity (freedom from prejudice), unity in diversity, justice, and that spiritual teachings have been progressively revealed and renewed in every generation and for every people. For one Indigenous Australian perspective on Bahá’í belief see: Cecilia Barber, “The Role of Indigenous Women in a Global Society,”Herald of the South 47 (1997)., pp.22-23.

I do not know much of the Mekeo culture except what is embedded in the practices of my mother in my upbringing, some stories and textbooks.

[8] I feel I have to state this as commonly I have had people have this expectation of me when they look at the colour of my skin

[9] June Perkins “Meeting an Anthropologist” South Coast Writer’s Centre Anthology, March 2004 {Forthcoming]

[10] June Perkins, “Community Arts and the Tertiary Classroom,” in Tertiary Teaching Models of Innovative Practice, ed. Sue McGinty and Lee Fitzpatrick (Townsville: James Cook University, 1995), pp. 85-105.

[11] Bahá’í scholarship is to take one or more Bahá’í principles and see how they might apply in practice in the real world, in real community and interpersonal modelling. In this study I put into action the principles of independent investigation of the truth, consultation, justice and unity in diversity. For further information see Research Department of the Universal House of Justice, Scholarship: Extracts from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, ‘Abd’u’l Baha, and from Letters of Shoghi Effendi and the Universal House of Justice (Mona Vale: Baha’i Publications Australia, 1995)

[12] Bahá’u’llah “21 Tablet Translated in Persian in Scholarship Extracts (1995), p.11.

Extract from Distilling Ink from Ochre, 2004 – June Perkins.

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