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Written in mid-July
The political act of being with…
What first attracted me to the use of metaphor by Yolŋu in storytelling was the way in which concepts central to Yolŋu epistemology could be translated into a visual form and be made more accessible to me as a non-Indigenous person. Metaphors I read in transcribed oral stories shared key insights into the processes used by Yolŋu to work together, learn and live ‘right’ ways.
Framing my Master’s research topic has been fraught with apprehension, as I have struggled to find the words and concepts that will bring me close to understanding a Yolŋu worldview. Initial attempts to do so only exposed my own western worldview and left me feeling as though I was projecting this foreign way of seeing onto a Yolŋu world. I am not Yolŋu, so how do I sensitively collaborate with Yolŋu to give voice to their perspectives? In essence, how can a person who sees the world from a different worldview, which does not share the same conceptual language, create a bridge to understanding?
When speaking to J about my idea to look at how metaphors are used to describe Yolŋu connection with country, he invited me to re-frame my perspective by sharing the idea of ‘being with’. I had never been conscious of the assumption that underlies the idea of connection, i.e. that something is broken or a separation that needs to be bridged. For many years my work as a teacher and community development worker focused on the premise that people were disconnected from themselves, community and place and that the goal of re-connection was central to creating healthy communities. Unquestioningly, I carried this loaded concept over into the framing of my masters research question. So, the idea of ‘being with’ was a revelation and offered me a new way of seeing and describing relationships. All of a sudden I felt this idea unfolding and expanding in different directions. Relationships that I had struggled to see in the past emerged and began to tell a story. This concept of ‘being with’ might be able to tell stories of how people, Yolŋu and Balanda, are in relationship with themselves, each other and country. The idea of ‘being with’ feels more whole and does not draw distinctions between people and country.
The language used to describe Western concepts for relationships between people and country is loaded with dualisms; there is an underlying assumption that there is a separateness that needs to be bridged. When working collaboratively with Yolŋu, how might these aforementioned assumptions impact on the development of our research partnership and my ability to truthfully represent Yolŋu perspectives?