Sharing stories for healing: NAIDOC Week at BKI

Beananging Kwuurt Institute (BKI), a Uniting Church WA Aboriginal community services organisation in Queens Park, Perth, held a NAIDOC Week storytelling event on Wednesday 7 July. Guests were invited to listen, learn, share, and enjoy kangaroo stew and damper together. This year’s NAIDOC theme is ‘Heal Country!’

In the 1930s, the site where BKI now stands was set up as Sister Kate’s Children’s Cottage Home, an institution for Indigenous children taken from their families, who are now known as the Stolen Generations.

Auntie Helen Skiadas, Board Member of Beananging Kwuurt Institute, spoke saying they are hoping to bring healing to people with a past connection to the site.

“We hope that as we slowly restore some of the land, it will heal some of the dark past,” she said. “We haven’t stopped dreaming of change here at BKI – and renewal – and we hope for happier times of joy and gladness for all our people.”

After a Welcome to Country by Kevin Fitzgerald, Board Member at BKI, and the raising of the Aboriginal flag by Tramaine Dukes, RAAF Indigenous Liaison Officer Flt Lt, Jo Abrahams shared some of the history of Beananging Kwuurt Institute and her personal connection to the place. Jo is a Ngarluma woman with ties to Roebourne. She has worked with the WA Stolen Generations Aboriginal Corporation, and has spent the last ten years reconnecting with her past.

Jo’s grandmother and great uncle were taken as children from their parents in the Pilbara region to be raised at the Sister Kate’s site. She said that Sister Kate’s intentions for the mission were well meaning, but with AO Neville’s government policy at the time, this is not how things played out.

“Children were selectively chosen for this place based on the colour of their skin,” Jo said. “Almost white children were actively targeted and slated for removal. These children were thought to have the best chance for assimilation into the dominating European culture.

“Generations of Aboriginal families in this state existed on a knife’s edge. The colour of a child’s skin making them a target of removal. Neville’s obsession with skin colour resulted in insulting, painful and ludicrous practices. Especially given that siblings of the same mum and dad could be graded differently by his designation, not actually by their bloodlines.

“Under his policies of assimilation, Aboriginality was something to be escaped, denied, watered down and eventually bred out. It sowed seeds of shame and guilt, self loathing and lostness.”

This policy of removal stayed in place until 1964, with amendments.

“What do we do now in WA with the hangover from previous generations? What have we inherited that needs to be disinherited?” Jo asked.

“One thing Neville didn’t factor on, is me and many others like me who are so proud of their Aboriginality. And that Aboriginality has got nothing to do with colour, and all to do with bloodline. We’re proud of our bloodline and where we’ve come from and the people who’ve come before us.

“There are still Aboriginal people who believe the lies that were told in this place – that they don’t matter. Be patient and understand there is a deep brokenness that’s hanging over from places like this.

“We don’t need more police officers in this space, we need more grief counselors to help us to deal with our brokenness, and support to give us spaces where we can come together and heal with each other.

“It’s a shared experience and understanding that brings space for healing.”

Susy Thomas, Moderator of the Uniting Church WA, blessed the gathering, before guests enjoyed a lunch of kangaroo stew and damper.

“May God bless you and guide you, and help us to walk alongside with you,” she said.

A Dreaming Session for BKI will be held on Wednesday 21 July, 10.00am to 4.00pm. Guests are invited to come along and share their dreams for what they would like to see happen at Beananging Kwuurt Institute, 188 Treasure Rd Queens Park, into the future.

Heather Dowling

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