I consider myself lucky to learn about my culture. Too many Aboriginal people missed out

22 Dec 2015

The word identity means different things to different people. I identify as a husband, a father, a Crows and Glenelg supporter, a member of a political party and as stated before, an Aboriginal man.

Culture is critical to one’s identity. Here, IndigenousX host Joel Bayliss explains how his own connection to culture and country was formed.

My name is Joel Bayliss and I’m an Aboriginal man. My cultural ties stretch from Borroloola in the Top End, to the Arrernte lands of the central desert of the Northern Territory. I am a proud husband to Hilda, doting dad to to Ava and Isaiah.

The word identity means different things to different people. I identify as a husband, a father, a Crows and Glenelg supporter, a member of a political party and as stated before, an Aboriginal man.

I have always known I was Aboriginal, people would look at my mother and ask, “Where are you from?” and I would always say I’m Aboriginal. We grew up in suburban Adelaide and went to a public school. My brother and I were only a handful of Aboriginal students at school. Through my teen years, I would constantly ask family about our culture, and they would politely go around the subject. I didn’t know how to take it then, but now I know.

Following school, I entered the workforce and went into Aboriginal-specific roles: mentoring Aboriginal students in school, advocating and supporting Aboriginal people within the justice system. You see, I needed to be around my people, something that seemed to be missing growing up.

Fast forward a few years and I went off to university. I was surrounded by like-minded brothers and sisters and I loved it. I vividly remember being in an anthropology class and it became apparent that I was learning my about culture, (a culture that is 40,000 years old) by an educated non-Aboriginal person. I didn’t know how to feel. We talked about this afterwards and she advised me to go home, speak to aunties, uncles and ask questions. So I did just that. My family must have got sick of the questions, but I wanted to know everything. I found out why growing up family did not want to talk about culture, it was because our culture wasn’t passed onto them.

My brother Benjamin had the wonderful opportunity a few years back, along with his partner, to work on my grandmother’s country in Borroloola. I am indebted to him for one day giving me the tour of this incredible country. You see, culture is incredibly important to one’s identity. I hope to pass the knowledge onto my two children. I do consider myself lucky, I will have the opportunity to learn about my culture, from my people. I think of the thousands of Aboriginal people who were forcibly removed from their families, about how the loss of culture, the loss of language, the loss of identity would have affected their lives.

Being part of the oldest living culture on earth is the reason I support the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our constitution.

In 1901 when the constitution was implemented it ignored an entire group of people who called this country home for tens of thousands of years. Who knows, maybe if recognition does occur, it might give someone who is aware of their Aboriginal heritage, but for whatever reason does not want to acknowledge it, the confidence to say, “I am a proud Aboriginal person”.

“Our stories, our way” – each week, a new guest hosts the @IndigenousX Twitter account to discuss topics of interest to them as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people. Produced with assistance of Guardian Australia staff.

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