Connecting to culture is a journey, not a box to tick
Written by Kelly Royds Bree Parsons
Last week, we were privileged to have Dr Jacynta Krakouer lead a training session on building cultural connections for First Nations children and young people in out-of-home care to a group of 30+ carers and professionals. Dr Krakouer is a Mineng Noongar woman originally from southern Western Australia, who brings deep research and practice wisdom to understanding the role and significance of cultural connections for First Nations children and young people.
Dr Krakouer based the session on her doctoral research which explores First Nations children and young people’s experiences of cultural connection in Australian out-of-home care. She explains, “This research was born out of my experience working in residential care, where I observed Aboriginal children and young people grappling with identity conflict and cultural disconnection.”
Drawing from surveys and interviews with Aboriginal young people who had lived in out-of-home care, Dr Krakouer identified the following three major aspects of cultural connection, and challenged participants to reflect on how they promote these in their own practice:
- The knowledges important to cultural connection
such as ancestry, mob, and kinship knowledges, as well as identity knowledges (“who I am”, and “where I belong”)
- The mechanisms that enable cultural connections
such as immersion in culture, relationships with First Nations people, and time spent in local community
- Feelings that evidence cultural connection
such as feeling proud of one’s identity, feeling belonging to family and community, and feeling comfortable as a First Nations person
One stand-out theme of Dr Krakouer’s findings was the crucial importance of ancestry, mob, and kinship knowledges to children and young people’s sense of identity above all other factors. These findings highlight the value of enabling and encouraging relationships between our First Nations children and young people with First Nations people who hold that cultural knowledge, both to learn from them and culturally connect to their community and own identity.
We have seen this in our work, where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in out-of-home care have told us they want to know who they are and where they are from. We need to support and advocate for family-finding and connect young people with the people who hold the cultural knowledge in their local communities.
Some other key messages and reflections to come out of the session included the following:
The care system is not designed to genuinely support cultural connections
Dr Krakouer emphasised the importance of acknowledging the historical context of Australian colonisation, to recognise that the system of removing children was not designed to support cultural connection but to impede it. The system was established to remove Aboriginal children from their homes with no intention of their return, and inherently continues to create obstacles that make it difficult for Aboriginal children to reconnect with heritage.
Cultural connection is a choice, and unique to the current needs of children and young people
In our reflective groups, we spoke about how, for many of children and young people, connecting to culture is a painful reminder of unsafe relationships or the hurt that they have experienced. Connecting to culture is a continuum for many children, at some points in time they may feel ready, while at other times they may feel ambivalent about connecting. The greatest barrier preventing our children from connecting to culture is simply feeling unsafe. Cultural connection is a complex understanding of identity that children who live in “survival mode” cannot prioritise while they worry about potential threats in their relationships and environment.
Dr Krakouer’s research also found that how children and young people want to engage in culture is unique to each individual. While some young people find it relevant and are comfortable to engage in culture through sport, art, or other ways, others find that just being Aboriginal is enough. She emphasised the importance of cultural immersion, the centrality of relationships, and the need for Aboriginal people to be the conduits of cultural knowledge. In our work we have found it helpful to find out where the child is at, and let the young people lead the decisions around if, when, and how they want to connect to their culture.
Everybody has a role to play in supporting cultural connections
Dr Krakouer ended by encouraging participants to reflect on their own knowledge and practice, and to keep learning and trying without being scared of failure. She noted the importance of collective healing and emphasised that everyone has a role to play in supporting cultural connections.
We have found that in our work with young people that sometimes they are ready to connect, while at other times they are not. As adults in their care teams, it is our responsibility to continue offering comfortable opportunities to connect in various ways that might appeal to them, listening and supporting when they do not want to connect, always leaving the door open for when they feel ready.
This insightful session was so well-received that many participants asked for a repeat workshop to bring others to! We have organised for Dr Krakouer to run this session again in August 2023, which you can register for by clicking the button below.
If you are interested in other upcoming training opportunities, visit the CETC training website for all our on-demand training courses and future online workshops.