29 June 2014

Cultural Differences Between the Indigenous and Non-Indigenous People Living on Groote Eylandt

We are all born into an ‘acculturation process’. The moment we open our eyes, images flood our spongy, undeveloped brain, and ‘voila’, life has been pre-written for us in many ways without our choosing, or knowing for that matter. It’s almost inconceivable to weigh up exactly which parts of us have truly stemmed from our own being (or whether that’s even possible), and which parts are hard-wired during the early years of the acculturation process. Now, I’m not just talking about the food we eat or the language we speak; cultural influences go much, much deeper than what is observable by the eye or ear. ‘We are given or acquire invisible cultures- with culturally determined rules, habits and imperatives determining the way we go about things. And we take it for granted that, for each of us, our own belief and action systems are natural and normal.’ (Burgoyne & Lalara, 2007, p.14)

It’s only when we are completely removed from our own culture or see someone breaking the ‘invisible’ rules in own system, that we stop and think ‘that’s different’. We must remind ourselves, ‘if I’m thinking this, they are probably thinking the same about me,’ and that there is no ‘right’ way of doing something. After all, rules and laws are all man-made and therefore have been derived by an individual, or group of individuals who are of a certain opinion or belief. With millions of people following and adopting these man-made rules, who is to say that one makes more ‘sense’ than the other. The one that makes ‘sense’ is the one that you have been conditioned to follow from birth. 
Mainstream Australians often identify themselves as anti-racist and make remarks like “I don’t care if someone’s black or white, I treat everyone the same.” Whilst this sounds great and I hope it to be true, Grant Burgoyne, resident of Angurugu, suggests that in most cases, this common statement should be interpreted as “…I treat everyone the same…as long as they’re like me.” In saying this, most of the people making these declarations do so with good intentions and would be horrified to think that they are judging others for being dissimilar to them. But the sad truth is that most of us are in-fact unfairly, and to some degree, unconsciously judgemental towards the behaviour of other cultures. And I use the word ‘us’ because just like you, I too,  am hard-wired to believe that my way is the ‘right’ way. Please join me in recognising that we all (mainstream Australians and Indigenous Australians) must adopt a bi-cultural outlook in order to respect each other’s differences and let all cultural groups live free from inference and judgement.
For mainstream Australians to begin this process, they need to be aware of the vast differences between their culture and the Indigenous culture. The below table is based on the culture of the Warnindilyakwan people (Groote Eylandt inhabitants of the past 8,000 years) and the Nungubuyyu people (originally from the mainland). The two combined groups are referred to as the Anindilyakwan people.
Please share this table with everyone you know to help make Australia a bi-cultural nation.

Majority of my information has been sourced from 'An Open Mind, Common Decency and Patience: A Handbook of Information for Visitors Living or Working With the Aborigines of Groote Eylandt' written by N.D. Lalara, Grant Burgoyne & Phil Elsegood. 

Grant Burgoyne is a "Mainstream Australian" who is married to Nancy Lalara, a Anindilyakwan woman who was born and raised on the island. Together, they run a cross-cultural course for all GEMCO employees and on a number of occasions have spared their time to answer many of my questions; to which I'm very thankful.

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