Kaleesha Morris is a Gumbaynggirr and Kulkalgal woman living in Gumbaynggirr territory. She currently works within the areas of cultural, racial and environmental justice, governance and engagement. And is passionate about cultural identity, language revival and Caring for Country practices.
Nganyundi bijaarr Kaleesha.ga. My name is Kaleesha. Ngaya yaam Gumbaynggirr nyami. I am a Gumbaynggirr woman. Within my veins flows the blood memory of thousands of generations of Gumbaynggirr women before me. And for that, I am both young and ancient, bone and rock, fierce and fluid, strong and soft, resilient and in today’s world, revolutionary.
As Country is innate to my identity and my world, so is the power of Aboriginal Women. The two are synonymous. I come from territories sung up and carved out by powerful Female Creator Ancestors. Women who created the Songlines, sea and rivers – commanding the elements, ‘Gaagal yuwarriya!’ (Sea move around!); Women who turned men into Mopokes and enemies into trees; Women so fierce, the very word itself ‘Dawaarr’, when used to describe a group of people, refers to a particular group of warrior women, ‘Dawaarrabany’ – women who killed any men who crossed their paths.
The awesome and formidable power of the Gumbaynggirr Woman configured Country and natural Lore and continues to permeate the spirits of those of us today who respect and draw upon this divine, innate source of strength weaved within the DNA of our lands and our bodies.
As our women and Country/nature are synonymous, so too has been our treatment. Throughout colonization our sacred bodies have been invaded, stolen, fenced out, rendered as property, fenced in, violated, exploited and plundered. The correlation is inextricable. But ultimately, just as Mother Nature cannot be conquered, neither can we.
As I get older, my understanding and appreciation of the lived experiences of my ancestors, mothers, aunties and grand mothers increases in clarity, depth and detail. There have been important moments shared when they decided that I was ready to know more about Country, an event, or what they have gone through and overcome. And in the process of becoming privy to such guarded information we go through our own special little rites of passage whereby I become entrusted to a greater extent, and where I come to know myself more because I am of the stuff they are made of. I do not take their knowledge or their trust for granted, and I marvel at their immense resilience and grace.
I have learned that there are depths of depravity and heartbreak that our women have encountered and experienced of which, for the sake of subconscious self – preservation, my heart & mind will never be able to fully comprehend. And there is the relentlessness, perpetual waves of reincarnated institutionalized violence, policy regimes and extreme public moral apathy of which our women have bore the brunt of, occupying the frontlines – resisting, loving us, protecting us, sacrificing and keeping culture strong. Sometimes I look into their strong, tired faces and wonder if I have what it takes to withstand as much as they have for as long as they have, and if (without choice), I will have to have what it takes. It seems inevitable, but even anticipating this, the survival and vital work of our women teaches me that there are no limits to our love, endurance and innovation.
There are so many women in my family who have guided and taught me what it means to be a Gumbaynggirr woman with strength and integrity. During a time when speaking our native tongues was forbidden, my great – grandmother Maggie Morris harbored them and held onto them tightly. She went on to help establish the Muurrbay Aboriginal Language and Culture Co – operative in Nambucca Heads, to ensure our language would resurge and reverberate through the chambers of our hearts, minds and mouths once again. It is because of her that I can pray to the Ancestors, and speak to Country in a sound and spiritual frequency that English will never be able to capture and convey.
My grandmothers Connie Duroux and Rhonda Morris have taught me that family and Country are everything. They ensured that I had a strong relationship with my Gumbaynggirr matrilineal lands and waters. Their love has flowed down into each branch of our extensive family tree like how water currents effortlessly flow throughout the windy branches of a river. My Nan Rhonda and I have a very close relationship, one based on mutual respect, trust and guidance. She has many decades of experience working tirelessly within community, working at the local women’s refuge; on the frontlines during the establishment of the Aboriginal Legal Service in Grafton; was the first Aboriginal female liaison officer with NSW Social Security (now Centrelink), and; was instrumental in setting up the Family Violence Local Court Support Program. As I sit here writing this article she sits across from me at the kitchen table, reminiscing on how so often during the early days of the ALS, they didn’t know if they would be getting any pay for the coming week, but how they knew their work was important so they sacrificed.
My mother Kerrie Morris & my aunty Deb Morris, both single mothers, worked hard within the justice and education systems whilst raising their kids together. Mum and Aunty are fiercely loyal to their children and their love for us is unwavering and unrivaled. I have so many other beautiful aunties who helped to raise me to be the woman I am today, Aunty Liz Duroux, Aunty Ali Skinner and Mum Jenny Beale. Having as many mothers as I do is a blessing and the way it is supposed to be, it is our way. Other staunch aunties like Aunty Fiona Hyland and Aunty Michelle Lynwood have been instrumental in helping our family to get an important portion of our land back. My sisters – Sonia, Nakkiah, Lowanna, Kiarra, Amber, Shonta, Brooke and Nevaeh – I am grateful to be facing this world with them by my side in either the physical and/ or spiritual sense. I also want to shout out to Sisterhood I share with so many others – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women all over the country who continue to put themselves on all types of frontlines. Their sharp intellect, tremendous passion, companionship and dedication to truth and justice continuously comforts, inspires and reinvigorates me.
It is fundamentally because of the love, resilience and power of Aboriginal women that Aboriginal people in this country remain as the oldest living human civilizations on the planet. Aboriginal women are indestructible and there is power and strength in remembering and honoring them, and them within us.
Because of her I am, because of her I can, and because of her I will.