Welcome to the full May 2016 edition of CASSE's Aboriginal Australian Relations Program newsletter!
I spent last week at the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention Conference. There was a palpable emotional connection between conference participants, and a togetherness swelling from the tide of suicides which has touched, no doubt, all participants. Hopelessness, helplessness and deathly feelings pervaded the conference. And then there was hope.
I spoke to the lacerating grief also, saying: “There is haemorrhaging pain and a rolling, volcanic rage which can be carried unknowingly, safely underground, colonising, and finally exploding into molten action and lethal death.”
Stan Grant in a keynote address spoke powerfully to the pain:
"I just want to know how to sleep at night.” The old man had come in from the bush to Alice Springs for this suicide prevention conference. He has lost a nephew and a grandson to suicide. Like so many of our people across this country he is mourning another lost generation. He is not alone here. Brother, sisters, sons and daughters have all gone before their time. Each have their own story but together we share a sadness that stretches across the centuries. My friend Ernie Dingo told me of his meeting with this old man. "I just want to know how to sleep at night. “Ernie said it hit him in the heart. The old man wasn't speaking just of suicide, he spoke to the sleeplessness of a people who are struggling to hold ourselves against the world…”
Stan then spoke to the transformational possibilities of the wounded heart by sharing painful stories together: “We are here today in the face of grief, sharing our stories to help lift our hearts again”.
In the face of healing, there can be new ground found and it is time to find new ground. I think you will find the men in Central Australia are finding new ground and voices to articulate the new ground, new growth against the daily shadows of death, which can darken the soul and mind inside and darken the reality of daily lives outside. In this newsletter you will see a glimpse of this new ground. The men together are finding talking spaces on cultural ground, on country, in soul and mind and actually walking it, naming their searing pain of old and of now, recognising the lethality of their violent actions, affirming the value of family and friends and Countrymen, talking in their language, young and old together, the language of ancestors, as they struggle to live in two worlds and find a new world from dispossession, collapse, collisions and endings.
Stan Grant spoke to Jonathan Lear’s book, 'Radical Hope', when he spoke of lifting hearts:
Before he died the great Crow Indian chief Plenty Coups spoke words that speak to our hearts too.
He said when the buffalo died, his people's hearts fell to the ground, and they could not lift them up again. After that he said: "Nothing happened."
Plenty Coups however had a dream and I refer again to Radical Hope:
Plenty Coups had a dream and in one part he was invited to look at a very old man sitting in the shade of a particular tree. Then there is a tremendous storm and all but one tree is knocked down.
“Listen Plenty-Coups,” said a voice. “In that tree is the lodge of the Chickadee. He is least in strength but strongest of mind among his kind. He is willing to work for wisdom. The Chickadee-person is a good listener. Nothing escapes his ears, which he has sharpened by constant use. Whenever others are talking together of their successes and failures, there you will find the Chickadee-person listening to their words. But in all his listening he tends to his business. He never intrudes, never speaks in strange company, and yet never misses a chance to learn from others….It is the mind that leads a man to power, not strength of body.” (p.70-71, Radical Hope).
Kenny Lechleitner, facilitator of the CASSE/CAAC Breakthrough Violence Program, said in the session last week: “Learning is the new ‘hunting and gathering’ that Aboriginal men need to get better at”.
Learning, emotional learning, through listening and talking, can find new ground in the mind.
Director, CASSE Aboriginal Australian Relations Program