Healing Country: Show up for Mother Earth

10 Aug 2022

A reflection after this year's NAIDOC Theme 'Get Up, Stand Up, Show Up'. BJ Cruse writes it's time we show up for our Country, for Mother Earth.

A red sky over a large body of water, which reflects the sky's colour.
Colours in the sky can indicate the best times to travel.

Aboriginal cultures in Australia embrace extended family systems to include kinship relationships, and have done so for tens of thousands of years. In my culture, kinship relations arose in the first instance through belief in a Creator God and bestowing value for the Earth as our Mother. In our families, we were taught of land management practices based on an Indigenous renewable economy.

I’ve learned from my old people that a lot of Aboriginal belief and value systems were and continue to be maintained by honour and shame laws passed down by Elders.
Honour and shame laws are often indicators of bravery for a community or shame for wrongdoing, and can take the form of bodily indicators such as scars. I only speak of my mob in this respect, every First Nations group have their own respective practices.

For Aboriginal people, Mother Earth in our Country is our teacher of traditional knowledge and, therefore, the ultimate custodian of lore and laws.  Originally, Aboriginal people did not write information on parchment. We orally recited stories and histories, including the Earth’s and Heavens’ natural features and colours. For example, colours in the sky could indicate the best time and direction to travel. Aboriginal people shun any inappropriate modifying of Mother Earth that could erase histories and knowledges within it. We do this by continuing the passing down of knowledge of how to care for Country through generations. This is also a way to guard against further attacks or barriers to sharing and maintaining Indigenous knowledges.

Our rights and connections to land are different to white people’s notions of land ownership in Australia. We can’t claim to own land; because we are part of the land, children of our respective Countries.  Because of this, we have a familial relationship with the land’s natural features, vegetation, and animals.

Aboriginal people can teach others about not taking too much from the land

Aboriginal people only take from Mother Earth what is necessary to survive and sustain an enriched, yet modest existence. Other than for trade purposes, jewels had no value except for their value as implements and ceremonial objects.

A large number of Aboriginal people moved about their respective Countries, occasionally venturing beyond for hunting and gathering from the lands, waterways and the ocean. They also would venture into other territories for trade. These movements across the land were carefully planned to coincide with anticipated seasonal changes. In coinciding with seasonal changes, Aboriginal people allowed for the adequate recovery of the environment for resources replenishment in the areas they inhabited and hunted. This is much different to a lot of non-Indigenous Australian farming, hunting and fishing practices that can often exhaust resources, and leave the land or sea bare.

The problems experienced by Mother Earth and Aboriginal communities stem all the way back to the original theft of this nation in 1778 and ongoing attempts by coloniser groups to seize Aboriginal lands. A significant effect and intention of colonisation has been the denial of Aboriginal ways of looking after Country and one another, which feeds into Mother Earth’s misery and deterioration. In addition, these attacks on our traditional practices can often seem to target who we are as First Nations people. This further contributes to poverty in our communities, ill health, and low self-esteem.

Mother Earth Herself has endured the effects of The Stolen Generations. When Aboriginal children were taken from their families and communities (and in some instances, still are), they were also taken from their Mother Country. When children are taken from their Country, their land has also been dispossessed of Her Aboriginal children and is therefore no longer able to provide for them in the cultural ways She has done for tens of thousands of years. Due to dispossession of Aboriginal people and also outside interventions to prevent communities from traditional practices to look after Country, Mother Earth finds it difficult to keep up Her natural stabilisation, replenishments, and purification processes, which is detrimental to the health of Australia’s land and climate.

It is a great honour for an Aboriginal person to be regarded as the best suited custodian to manage the laws put in place to ensure Country is being looked after and provided for. Traditionally, under Aboriginal knowledge systems, our people, the natural environment, natural resources, plants and animals were all cared for.

BJ Cruse on Country.

BJ Cruse on Country.

Practices such as cultural burning, land repatriation, sustainable fishing and hunting practices have been at the forefront of some Aboriginal groups since before colonisation, and these ancient knowledges and practices must be respected and preserved. 

According to my Elders, traditionally, for some cultural groups, anyone who might be working in a way detrimental to their people, and/or Mother Earth’s wellbeing, were subject to shame laws and shunned from the rest of the tribe.

In current Australian society, Aboriginal people are often stopped from continuing their cultural practices on Country. A lot of us have been alienated from our essential laws for earth care and denied opportunities to make necessary and cherished contributions to help heal our Country and climate. Mother Earth therefore continues to suffer the brunt of these circumstances. 

In my opinion, too much time has passed, and too much change has come about for our land to be as healthy as it was before colonisation. Even so, Mother Earth’s state of health ought to be of paramount concern for all people. There should be mutual Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal acknowledgements and mutual respect for each other’s needs and aspirations. Mother Earth could be better served through integrating non-Aboriginal technology  with traditional Aboriginal value systems. In non-Indigenous people learning from our knowledge systems and our relationship to Country,  this could lead to more people caring for our land improve each society’s aptitude for caring and sharing for others.

Likewise, there should be a concerted effort to end inappropriate short-term developments destroying our land for the benefit of a few. A harmonising of developments, with greater sensitivity, coupled with understanding of Mother Earth’s capabilities, is needed to better look after the Earth our Mother so that She can continue providing for us as she always has.

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