After yesterday’s gentle conversations, we launched into a full day Masterclass at the conference. There were several going on throughout the day and I chose to spend the day with a First Nations panel which was a first for the conference. For me there is so much crossover with the care experience, not least because Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are over-represented in child protection and out-of-home care services compared to non-Indigenous children. I am also committed to the fact that I do not know what I have not lived so it is important for me to learn from those who have experiences of the world that I do not have.

I was not disappointed and I can only share a small amount with you so I’ll be focused! The wonderful Judy Atkinson chaired the event reminding us that we arrive with stories and the most important thing we do in life is LISTEN. We MUST listen to our children as they are telling us of their pain.

The first speaker was Lewis Mehl-Madrona from Maine in the US and he invited us to remember what is indigenous inspired.

  • Community
  • Non judging
  • Respectful
  • Non hierarchical
  • All healing has a spiritual component
  • Everything that matters exists in stories
  • Relationships are everything

We are mopping up the mess of the European invasion and the disruption of ‘place’ which matters for healing. If we move around, we need to learn the stories of each place we go to through the seasons as a place changes with the seasons. Place matters in healing. This struck me as resonant with my own journey to finding a ‘place’ to belong, to come from, to learn about and the rupture to ‘place’ that I have experienced.

Trauma is embodied and unstoryed, so we need to get stories into the body. The stories help the traumatised know they are not alone, that the world is noisy, full of those who came before. Neuroscience tells us we need to activate the story brain. When stories change, we change and our brains change. No world views are necessarily privileged as all stories matter. Stories are units of meaning-making. We need stories to feel safe. Create a new story and you become coherent, we synchronise, we fall into resonance with one another. It’s not just about what happened to you but also about how we create a future story.

Cindy Blackstock stepped into her power as a contrast to Lewis’s gentle voice, shaking the room with some stark messages not least, my favourite, that justice is the great preventer of trauma. We have been codifying trauma as a personal deficit rather than addressing the social injustices that caused the trauma. Amen! It’s a colonial trap. We are so bathed in colonialism we don’t question it. The impact of this is not news to first nations people. We’ve known about it for decades.

We have the answers. The problem is that we don’t have the moral courage to hold the govt accountable. It is our job to stand up to this discrimination. First Nations families were being set up to fail. There are more First Nations children in state care than at the time of the residential homes school system in Canada (read that again). Our duty is to show children that we tried to do something. First Nations children are 17X more likely than other kids to be separated from their families. This is not ‘a dark chapter’ a story sold to us… it is happening today!

The dialogue of justice, holding those accountable who need to be, is often missing in the conversation about trauma. The number one call to action is prevention.

These inequalities remain:
Water, sanitation, broadband, housing, education, early childhood, recreation.

While there were other speakers, I shall leave you with Alayne Mikahere-Hall and her research, First We Connect. I met Alayne in the taxi on the way to the hotel from the airport and I was excited to hear her speak.

Her critique of attachment theory argues that the theory should be there to help, not used to separate mothers and babies. Her research methodology presents an insider critique and knowledge about attachment and what that might look like. For example, the extended family, the people we choose, the people who feed the children and the babies. Attachment theory doesn’t talk about spirit at all. In other words, it is culturally irrelevant and creates and adds to harm rather than heals.

A prayer was developed specifically for the children and this is what the ancestors always did for children.

Piripoho (PIRI = cling, keep close to POHO = chest):
My beautiful baby, you are enrobed
In a love that will never be extinguished
You are precious beyond measure
To your family
Cherished baby
You must understand if you want to see the end….

We heal in the place that we belong to but what if we don’t belong to a place? I would argue that we can choose a place and indeed, this is what I have done just this year. 52 years old and I found a place to call home and somewhere to belong to. I chose it myself. It’s very tricky when we have moved around so much as care and school exclusion facilitates, creating a sense of unbelonging. Indigenoue wisdom argues that we have to know who we are as a people or we are ‘a nothing.’

There are endless key messages in this wisdom about healing, about belonging, about connection. First Nations culture instinctively knows this. It is part of their cultural worldview. Those of us who spend our time focusing on relationships, community, song and stories as healing, of ‘ways of being’, do this in the face of a culture in the West of separation, exclusion, pathologisation and systems that fight against what heals. The collective work is for us all!

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