What indigenous society has to teach about raising kids
The health and welfare of our young people has been at the centre of many policy announcements made so far this election.
Childcare centres and chubby babies provide popular photo opportunities for campaigning politicians, and both parties are arguing over who’s paid parental leave scheme is best.
Focusing on our young people is important: they are the future of our nation, the next pillars of our community; but is it the role of government to tell us how to raise our children?
Last month, the Standing Committee on Family, Community, Housing and Youth recommend a national youth violence and rehabilitation strategy in its Avoid the Harm – Stay Calm report.
It identified a number of factors – personal, social, environmental – which have led to alarming levels of youth violence. Committee Chair Annette Ellis MP said “young people aged 15 – 24 are nearly twice as likely to be victims of assault when compared to the general population.”
The report highlighted the role that interpersonal relationships with family and friends play in shaping a young person’s attitude to violence.
But whose responsibility is it to guide our social cohesion? Is a top down government approach the best way? Or should families be taking back responsibility for building strong communities with strong values? And how can we do this?
Australia has the incredible fortune to have direct access to one of the richest indigenous cultures in the world. For sheer complexity of social organisation, no other indigenous culture on earth can hold a candle to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
The resilience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people against wicked odds gives us not just a window into their community structure, but a door too if we choose to step through it.
Pre-European settlement, traditional Aboriginal family structures extended far beyond the modern nuclear model. Each member had a defined place and role, and individual interests were subordinate to the group. Individualism, greed and selfishness were serious social crimes. Aboriginal society was about reciprocal obligations of giving and receiving; status was determined by what you knew, not what you had.
Aboriginal Elders kept communities functioning and held power through their knowledge of ceremony and lore.
They were the keepers of spiritual and practical wisdom; kept a tight rein on marriages, disputes, initiations and ceremonies, and maintained the societal structure.
Continuity bred trust, and trust bred stability. Parents and extended family members helped build values, respect and a strong sense of community in the children.
When Australia was settled by a community of convicts, prison guards and their accompanying bureaucracy, they blew this apart.
European society saw Aboriginal communities as lawless and godless. Nomadic, self-sufficient cultures were viewed as primitive. And so English settlers, and the generations which came after them, did their best to destroy them.
Over the years my travels and work with Indigenous communities have exposed me to the devastation wreaked upon communities by the trashing of their social fabric. The impact has been akin to nuclear fallout.
Addressing the ‘Indigenous problem’ has taken up millions of policy hours and reams of paper. But if we reflect on non-Indigenous Australian society, we see similar issues.
Modern Australia has high divorce rates and growing drug, alcohol and violence issues with our youth. While alcohol is often the cause of violence, people don’t seem to understand that alcohol is only a symptom of the problem.
American counselor John Bradshaw explores the impact of alcohol on the family structure in his book “The Family”.
Bradshaw talks about the cause of emotionally impaired families and how the unhealthy rules of behavior are passed down from parents to children, and the destructive effect this has on our society. He claims that 97 per cent of families are dysfunctional. Today’s modern society is a constant struggle.
Yet we can’t go back by bringing grandparents back into the family home. Part of the solution may be found by studying older cultures.
Aboriginal people in Aurukun, on the Gulf of Carpentaria, recognize this. In Aurukun, Family Responsibility Commissioners and the Community Justice Group are using their wisdom and influence of Elders to bring about positive change.
Elders act as guides and mentors by sharing their experiences, knowledge and help people to understand their responsibilities. They create a safe place for people to learn and discuss these responsibilities.
But in modern Australia, government support in the form of aged care pensions has meant the elderly have been removed from the family home and from the lives of our young people. Paid parental leave schemes make it more economically viable for women to balance childcare and careers.
So in the rush to provide for some of society’s most marginalized, has government taken on a role they shouldn’t?
Governments are not here to fix problems such as youth violence by giving out money – it should be a family and community responsibility.
Strong, unyielding communities lead to better outcomes for everyone, including the country as a whole. Parents and extended family members should help to build values, respect, and a sense of community.
And I believe we could all benefit from looking to traditional Aboriginal culture to help us do that.
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@mooks83 sophisticated response. Think the kids parents saw it differently
More class from 9's footy show, lampooning a baby that allegedly looks like Sterlo with a pic swiped from Facebook http://t.co/BGoYP6Pn68
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