Five Questions with Dianne Biritjalawuy Gondarra

Dianne Biritjalawuy Gondarra was Indigenous X host from October 31 to November 7, 2014.

Five questions to Dianne Biritjalawuy Gondarra

My yäku (name) is Dianne Biritjalawuy Gondarra. I am a Dhurili woman from North East Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. I live in Galiwni’ku community on Elcho Island.

My language is Dhangu, but I also speak Djambarrpuyŋu, which is the common language on Elcho Island. I speak 12 other Yolngu (Indigenous people of North East Arnhem Land) languages as well as English. Through my gurrutu (kinship relationships), my ringgitj (clan-alliance), my baapurru (paternal clan) and my maalk (skin name), I am related to every Yolngu person, all of the land and everything in the land within North East Arnhem.

I am a cross-cultural consultant and educator and work to promote dialogue, understanding and awareness between my culture and the mainstream Australian culture. I also work with The AHED Project on Elcho Island.

My focus will be on my people, the Yolngu people in Arnhem Land. I will talk about my land, where I am from, and the struggles we are facing. I will share about the tension between our Yolngu society and mainstream Australian society and the struggles this tension creates for us.

I want to tell you how my people are being affected by having a law that is foreign forced upon them. I will tell people our struggles, differences, similarities and the hope that I see for my people.

Specifically I am going to focus on my Hope for Health crowd-funding campaign. Today Yolngu people are facing high rates of chronic disease and it is killing our communities. This is because of the confusion that exists between our two worlds, particularly around nutrition. I am starting a health retreat in my community where people can experience, learn about and understand good nutrition. I will be tweeting a call to support my campaign.

I will also be talking about land and property rights from the perspective of Yolngu Madayin law and how this law creates a state of magaya (harmony & peace) and protection for our women, our men, our children. As our Madayin law is sacred and holy, so are our women, men and children and we want this to be respected.

The people I grew up with in Galiwin’ku, my community and my family, have shown me how to navigate this world, to understand the world and how it operates both on the Balanda side and the Yolngu side.

My Malu (father) & Ngaandi (mother), Djiniyini Gondarra & Gelung Bukulatjpi. They introduced me to the mainstream world and showed me how to navigate it as a strong Yolngu person. She taught me about my rights as a woman and he taught me how to use my voice in a way that is wukindimirr (respectful through proper dialogue and processes).

My Dhuway (husband) Ruwarringa holds a high-ranking position in our Yolngu parliament. He filled gaps in my knowledge so I could explore and understand my Yolngu citizenship more deeply.

Wamut Richard Trudgen has spent 40 years working with Yolngu and 12 of those he has spent working with me. He made himself into a Balanda resource for Yolngu and helped me become literate in the Balanda world from within my Yolngu framework. He was like a bridge between the two worlds.

I think the arts are very important to our people, through it they can connect to their heritage, ancestors and country. It helps us to be well. In order to improve our health, socio economic profile and status I feel Australia has to embrace our cultures wholeheartedly. This should be done through recognition in every way of our place as first peoples with rich and diverse cultures and practises that have made us the world’s oldest living cultures. It needs to be acknowledged in western law through constitutional recognition.

It needs to be acknowledged through educating Australians in our schools curriculum of the united history that we all share of this country’s dispossession and colonisation. It also needs to be acknowledged by respecting our ownership of the land and crediting that, not undermining land rights. Many of the issues we face and in particular our health and housing and services may be addressed through action and respect, and we need to address those and not increasing incarcerate our people.

Peace at all times. My hope is that we will seek justice so that my people have hope for their own future and can feel vitality, health and confidence in our right to be Yolngu. I hope for real acknowledgement of Yolngu Rom (Law). This will mean that my people can be empowered and feel respected in the same way Balanda (mainstream Australians) feel when they are treated with justice and respect in their law. I want that yuwalk maagayamirr Rom (true law that brings a state of harmony & peace).

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