“The land is my mother. Like a human mother, the land gives us protection, enjoyment and provides our needs – economic, social and religious. We have a human relationship with the land: Mother, daughter, son. When the land is taken from us or destroyed, we feel hurt because we belong to the land and we are part of it.” Djinyini Gondarra
Dispossession is described as being the taking away of someone’s land, property, or other possessions. Dispossession is what happened to many of Australia’s Aboriginal People, which in turn had an impact on their Contemporary Spirituality. Aboriginal culture is centred around spirituality. Dispossession destroyed this special connection with what was lost and impacted many Aboriginals with at times devastating consequences for them. Dispossession is what has formed the contemporary Aboriginal spirituality of today, with lasting effects on Aboriginal culture, which is in some places is only a ghost of what it used to be.
Without a direct and physical connection with their land Aboriginal people believe they are not able to connect with their ancestors and therefore are not able to develop a spiritual identity. During the protection policies many Aboriginals were separated from their land and were sent to government and church run missionaries. “The land is my mother. Like a human mother, the land gives us protection, enjoyment and provides our needs – economic, social and religious.” Djinyini Gondarra explains the land as being her protector and reasoning of life. This is the case for most Aboriginals as they depend and rely on constant access to land to be able to perform traditional ceremonies and rituals. These rituals are part of their beliefs and culture which they believe are very important for their individual identity and role in the community, such as initiation ceremonies which mark a boy growing into a man.
Djinyini Gondarra states that “When the land is taken from us or destroyed, we feel hurt because we belong to the land and we are part of it.” While living in the reserves the Aboriginals were disposed from their land. This had an enormous impact on their way of life as hunters and gatherers and working with the land they knew was no longer possible. This impacted on their spirituality as the ceremonies that were so important to them, that connected them with the land and their ancestors, were unable to take place and have been lost. Many Aboriginal people felt isolated from their culture and community due to the fact that they couldn’t continue these practices which were so important and crucial to them, their belief systems and their relationship with the land.
Presently, incarceration rates in jails for Aboriginal people are at 28%. These statistics are another example of the disruptive and life changing impact dispossession has had on Contemporary Aboriginal spirituality. It has led to many Aboriginal people making the wrong choices perhaps due to the fact they no longer have an elder, or community to help them when they are challenged. These statistics would also be impacting Aboriginal spirituality as, while they are in jail they would not be able to feel any connection to their sacred land. This would further affect the Aboriginal people as they would ‘feel hurt” as they would not have any connection or be able to be a part of their land. Therefore, the effects of disposing an Aboriginal Australians from the land has had a continuing impact on their spirituality to this day.
Another major impact of dispossession on Aboriginal spirituality is the separation from kinship groups. All social interactions between Aboriginals in the past were governed by kinship groups, which worked as a law system for them. Each individual person belonged to a kinship group. This group provided them with a family and a community to be part of. As Djinyini Gondarra stated “the land gives us protection, enjoyment and provides our needs.” Dispossession has had a huge impact on Aboriginal Spirituality through these groups, as each groups individual language has not been able to be passed on to other generations, nor have they had the opportunity to immerse the younger generations in their dreamtime stories or sacred rituals – which are key ways of maintaining each Aboriginal Community or Kinship Group. Dispossessing Aboriginal people from their Kinship groups separated them from their family and support systems, making many feel isolated, worthless and impacting their spirituality. The protection and assimilation policies were purposely cruelly put in place by early Australian Governments to destroy and suppress Aboriginal Groups and their culture. The ability to perform important kinship rituals and ceremonies was lost, as was the language, dreamtime stories and Spirituality. Through Dispossession Aboriginal peoples identity was greatly diminished from their community culture. As you can see the impact dispossession has had on kinship groups has had a long lasting negative effect forming the unintended contemporary model of today.
The Stolen Generation are another example of the catastrophic effect dispossession had on Aboriginal spirituality. The Stolen Generation occurred between 1910 and 1970 and refers to the forceful removal of Aboriginal children from their family and communities. Djinyini Gondarra said “we have a human relationship with the land.” They feel a part of the land. This separation and removal of children from their families and communities had a major impact on Contemporary Aboriginal Spirituality. By being forcefully removed, the Aboriginal people lost their ability to pass on their culture and spirituality to the next generation- and many of these children grew up without a sense of identity or knowing who they really were. They had lost the connection to their people and their land, the core of their beliefs. Many of the stolen children were never reunited with their community which led to many children living without a sense of belonging or worth. This has impacted Aboriginal spirituality as it has led to a lack of trust amongst many Aboriginal Communities and also left many Aboriginals with drug and alcohol problems. This lack of trustworthy support which led to many of them finding drug and alcohol abuse as a way to get their minds away from their worries. Many Aboriginals still suffer from a feeling of loss of identity as they do not know their family or have any connection culture they belong to. Instead of turning to their leaders or Elders for help as they would have in the past, these dispossessed Aboriginals end up with depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions. The impact of the stolen generation is still felt in many communities around Australia today and continues to impact negatively on Aboriginal Spirituality.
Clearly, dispossession has had an enormous impact forming the Contemporary Aboriginal Spirituality of today. This is due to the removal of kinship groups, the removal of people from their families and communities and by implementing plans such as The Stolen Generation. Without their land, the Aboriginal people feel destroyed and depleted of everything of importance to them. In the words of Djinyini Gondarra “we belong to the land and we are a part of it.” Now Djinyini Gondarra would say, we “belonged” to the land and we “were” a part of it.