Acculturation pressure on Indigenous Australian young people has become too much to bear

blog1-01Imagine yourself as an Aboriginal child trying to establish your own sense of self in the dominant Anglo Saxon Australia of today;

It’s harsh and the daily discourse between the core values of a young Indigenous person’ ancient culture and the power and prominence of a culture that believes in a value system polar opposite to your own. The awful results of the current situation Aboriginal kids find themselves experiencing daily can be found in the disgraceful and frightening data of incarceration rates and soul distressingly high suicide rates.

If your black skinned you are usually button holed by the majority into being thought of as unclean, lazy, unreliable, unmotivated and untrustworthy (not by all but by many)

You are expected to be an expert in all parts of Aboriginal culture

If you live on the east coast of Australia your family is more than likely fair skinned, probably skipped a few generations of handing down knowledge because of colonisation, yet you are told you are Aboriginal but have no idea what that means or how to be an Aboriginal, (because there is no national belief system with behavioural rules to aspire to anymore), nor do your multiple heritage parents have the knowledge to hand down to you (even though they may desperately want to).

You are expected to learn in an environment where the way the school curriculum is delivered is not how you learn effectively. Yet you are constantly told in the media and by the wide world you have to succeed at school or your stupid.

The books you read at school written mostly by Anglo people seem harsh and selfish because you are group motivated and this individualistic focus is foreign to you and all the values you hold.

Your ancestor’s Ancient knowledge & skills thousands of years old is mostly invisible and not included in most school subjects except a bit in History and Geography, nor utilised much in business, economies or many sectors within Australia (except occasionally included in art or tourism or on a very tokenistic level)

Information is presented in an upfront, activation style is not how you are comfortable presenting information in your story telling, organic culture. It is about the journey first for Aboriginal people, details are at the end. Yet if you tell the journey at school or in your business you are wasting time or not getting to the point quick enough. (Most Anglo Saxon people need to know information upfront to see if it is worth committing to)

According to Anglo society you’re meant to be impressed by people who hold important positions or are famous – yet in Indigenous organic valued culture you are taught everyone is equal!

If your fair skinned you are immediately button holed as only claiming your rightful heritage to get the money or some fanciful huge amount of welfare, you’re untrustworthy or people tend not to discuss Aboriginal culture with you so as not to offend or they are unsure of your Aboriginality. (Aboriginal people call it “the look” – which is a certain look that Anglo people give Fair skin Aboriginals when they truthfully tell them they are of Aboriginal heritage) I can only describe it as a look of Yer right.

blog1-02It is clear in our research the polar-opposite differences between the Indigenous and Anglo Australian cultures creates cultural tensions for Indigenous teenagers growing up in Australia every day. These teens are faced with the challenge of acculturation with the Australian culture, while trying hard not to upset their Aboriginal parents and keep their cultural integrity.

In our research from the CultuRecode™ Model we also found that the ability to maintain identification with

“both one’s own culture and the mainstream culture predicted higher levels of self-esteem”, and that the “level of acculturation has a dramatic impact on the development of self-esteem” (Caetano, 1987). However, for Indigenous teenagers growing up in Australia, trying to compromise the two very different cultures is a difficult, if not impossible, task. The result is often “conflicts between traditional Core values system of parents and the new values embraced by their children” which may affect the psychological well-being of Indigenous teenagers.

Having a duo identity may cause a lack of consistency in one’s identity, which creates confusion in Indigenous teens as to who they are now and what values they require to be successful in an Anglo Saxon dominant society. These conflicts “generally begin to occur during adolescence over issues of autonomy and independence” (Laursen & Collins, 1994).

While Anglo Australian parents support Cultural Differences in Parenting Styles, their child’s assertion of independence, Indigenous Australians view this assertion of independence as a threat to the family bond and harmony that traditional Aboriginal societies embrace. For this reason, the suppression of independence may cause the child to feel depressed in that they do not have the same privileges as their non-Indigenous peers. Leading to more conflict.

The difficulty with acculturation also affects the Indigenous teenager’s social life. The intrapersonal adjustments and frustrations could affect interpersonal relationships as well. Without a strong sense of self, it is often difficult for one to relate to others in a healthy manner. In our studies, we found that “Caucasian students reported having far more friends outside of their cultural group than their Indigenous counterparts”. These findings suggest that many Indigenous Australian teenagers have “higher levels of social isolation, greater social rejection, and most likely poorer interpersonal skills.

Individuals discover their core characteristics from the interactions they have with their peers. Comfort level with one’s gender, sexual orientation, preferred ways to dress, and favorite things to do are all a part of the establishing this level of comfort with the self. Individuals make preliminary choices and commitments about the people and groups they identify with, the roles they can play, and the lifestyles they want, and they get feedback from others that may either confirm their self-image or transform it (Reisser, 1995).

What is happening in Indigenous Australia to our young people is that their groups, role models at school and in sport are mostly from a culture that is the direct opposite to theirs and that causes inner turmoil regarding who they should be loyal to or pressure to change their ways of doing and knowing to fit in.

Is it too hard for our amazing, funny, beautiful kids – absolutely not, far from it.

But we do have to do things differently – it can no longer be about one culture at a time. It must be about finding a value system that fits all sides. This is what we searched for in our research and believe we have found something special that will contribute to this shared value system.

blog1-03We could start by committing to teach our Indigenous kids how to succeed in a value system different to their own, whilst still maintaining their cultural integrity. We must start handing down generational learning in our urban and regional centres again with Indigenous parenting programs. We must restore the Ancient Circle of life and learn from the blueprints of how our ancestors achieved a strong belief system in the first place.

There is so much to be done but together it can be done. We have developed our own version of the Ancient Indigenous blueprints to find a way. So, the CultuRecode Model has much to offer, as I know many others do as well. We have made sure that we have made room to share our value system with Anglo Australia and all the cultures of the world because we believe that is the way forward.

What are we waiting for? I am tired of waiting for goodness knows who or what to change things for the better or for a great leader to emerge. In Ancient times people contributed to the group equally – sure some had roles but it was not a hierarchical system.