Creating a culturally safe space

Mundanara Bayles is mother of five, host of Black Magic Woman podcast and co-founder of Black Card, a specialist consultancy providing cultural capability training and consultancy service to enable people and organisations to work effectively with members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, creating a society that includes everyone in a meaningful and productive way by working more effectively with First Nations people and each other.

5 minutes
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How does your perspective on the world shape your business and influence how you run it?

“My elders in the Black Card, I went into business with my elders. My grandmother's sister, Dr. Lilla Watson, was the first Aboriginal lecturer to be employed at the University of Queensland (UQ) in 1980 and the first Aboriginal person to serve on the university senate. My aunt Lilla and her best friend, sister and colleague, Dr. Mary Graham. Not only did they write three courses, for UQ, they taught Aboriginal perspectives, Aboriginal approaches to knowledge, and Aboriginal politics to undergrad and post-grad students over three entire semesters. 

So when we started Black Card 10 years ago, literally the elders came to me with this idea and we went into business 10 years in NAIDOC week. They wanted to, you know, they really wanted to educate mainstream Australians about the accumulated knowledge that developed or evolved over the tens of thousands of years that we've lived in this country. And we refer to it at Black Cardas Aboriginal terms of reference. So in Aboriginal terms, what does family, community, country, governance, identity, logic, just to name a few, what does that mean in our terms? Because the opposite to that is Western terms or white terms of reference.Which refers to knowledge that comes from somewhere outside of this country. Those are based on Western ideologies that have been imposed on this country, now known as Australia, and imposed on Aboriginal people. 

So knowing that we've got these two different systems, the Aboriginal knowledge, Western knowledge, Aboriginal world, Western world, how do we navigate these two very different worlds that are both so valid? And also equal. How do Aboriginal people navigate these two worlds? And how do non-Aboriginal people come on over into the Aboriginal world and learn about the history, the heritage and the culture of the place that they call home? So having elders as my business partners, they are the cultural authority. In Aboriginal culture, elders are the cultural authority.”

Could you please share some of the cultural awareness and practices with our community to ensure our own awareness and appreciation in the work that we are doing?

Here's a few really good tips and you know, just be mindful that there are nearly one million First Nations people or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that live in Australia. There's more, we know that there's more but not everybody ticks the box and that's another conversation for another day that people still don't feel culturally safe especially in the workplace to identify as First Nations.

Asking somebody to justify their cultural identity. And as an Aboriginal woman, it's something that I've experienced nearly every day of my life. You know, when I identify as Aboriginal, most people say to me, oh, but you're not a full Aboriginal. Are you part or are you half? I've even been told that I speak really good English. I've been told that I'm the prettiest Aboriginal that they've ever seen.

And I've also been asked why aren't the rest of them like me?

So please don't think that it's okay. It's actually quite disrespectful to ask somebody, a complete stranger, somebody you work with, who happens to identify as Aboriginal, Indigenous or First Nations, to question their identity or to ask them to justify how much Aboriginal they are. It's so offensive and it's not a way to start off a relationship.

So one kind of, to me, that sticks out really quickly is that there's this stereotype that Aboriginal people look like our ancestors did 200 years, 200 years ago. So yeah, I think people need to come out of under the rock that you've been living under and really start to see that there are thousands of Aboriginal people that are also Christians, Muslims. You know, they've got Japanese heritage or Afghanistan or Pakistan or Indian heritage. So, you know, not to judge a book by its cover, but also it goes back to the colonial times where, you know, the system, the caste system was introduced to remove Aboriginal children from their parents. So it's quite offensive and can be quite traumatizing and really triggering. Even the term half caste. 

Another thing that I would say is that Aboriginal people have, we have our own logic. And I'm sure that most other ancient cultures around the world, it's not just the West that have their own logic, which is based on Aristotle. Aboriginal logic is closer to Chinese logic. So we think differently. So there's obviously a lot of misunderstandings and miscommunication between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians because of how we think, but also because we speak Aboriginal English. 

Aboriginal English is a recognised language. It's not standard Australian English or SAE. And what is Aboriginal English? Because it's not broken English and it's not pidgin or creole. Aboriginal people were self-taught the English language.

So we have given added meanings to the English words that we use. So when we talk about family, for instance, you know, we could be talking about our immediate family, our extended family, our non-blood relatives, or the whole community that we're part of. Whereas in for non-Aboriginal people, usually family is your nuclear family, or you would say they're my extended family, but then it stops there. 

Another good example is land. Most people see land as a piece of real estate that can be bought or sold. For Aboriginal people, you could never own land. It's got such spiritual significance. And I talked about it earlier, the land is our mother. The land invented us, it gave birth to us. And we have this obligation to look after it.

That's what we've been doing for tens of thousands of years. We are custodians of land. We are caretakers of country. And that's something that every single person in this country and around the world, you do not have to be an Indigenous person to see the earth as your mother. It is literally our life force. It keeps us alive. The land does not need us but we need it. So think about this in terms of relationships, because this is my next piece of advice. How you treat land is then like a template for how you treat people.

You know, what kind of society you're going to have is always contingent on the relationship between people and land. And that's such, you know, you might think of it's highly philosophical, but it's so important when you think of global warming and climate change. You know, we have wrecked this country in like under 250 years. We've wrecked this country.

How can we all be caretakers of country? How can we all see ourselves as custodians of country? Because our future generations, they are entitled to a healthy planet. They are entitled to clean air and clean water. And that's all of our responsibility, not just First Nations.”

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