Understanding the diversity of cultural identities in Australia is an essential element of achieving reconciliation.
As Ian Anderson says, ‘I inhabit an Aboriginal body, and not a combination of features which may or may not cancel each other’ (n.d.).
For an Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander child, it may not be quite so straightforward and I am reminded of Lindsay Kate, and a conversation with her grandfather. It goes like this: ‘But Grandpa, how will people know I’m Aboriginal?’ ‘Well, my girl, it’s a matter of who your relations are, who grows you up and who knows you. It has to do with who you are and what you feel; it has do with family, and a lot to do with community and friends. It has to do with the kinds of things we do as Aboriginal people – not with what you look like’ (Connor, Moyle, Smith & Price 1997).
As teachers, it is important to be aware of the three-part commonwealth definition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identity, and it is even more important to appreciate the lived diversity and complexity of this identity.
According to the commonwealth’s basic legal definition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identity, an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person is someone:
- who is of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent
- who identifies as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person, and
- who is accepted as such by the community in which they live, or have lived.
Nevertheless, there is no single ‘Aboriginal’ or ‘Torres Strait Islander’ identity. There is, in reality, great diversity both between and within distinct Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander linguistic-cultural groups, and the experience of what it means or feels like to be an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australian can vary deeply at the individual level.
Although Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are often characterised by the media and considered by the lay public as one homogeneous group, you will see in a number of the resources in this topic that stereotypes of what constitutes being an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person can invite discrimination, intolerance and exclusion, which is why an understanding of identity and diversity is important to reconciliation.
It is for similar reasons that the term ‘Indigenous,’ often used to refer to Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, is considered a contentious term by some. That is, not only does it have scientific connotations which have been used historically to describe Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as part of the flora/fauna rather than human population of Australia, so too does it problematically serve as a universal label for what are, in reality, highly diverse identities.
Anderson, I, quoted on Share our Pride, Reconciliation Australia, viewed 30 August 2016, <http://www.shareourpride.org.au/sections/first-australians/>.
Connor, L, Moyle, D, Smith, S & Price, K 1997, Signposts... to Country, Kin and Cultures, Curriculum Corporation, Melbourne.