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Truth telling at Daly River

PhD candidate Gavin Morris has been researching the impacts of colonisation and traditional healing practices of the Nauiyu
PhD candidate Gavin Morris has been researching the impacts of colonisation and traditional healing practices of the Nauiyu

A truth-telling project that captured the impacts of colonisation and traditional healing practices of the Nauiyu community at Daly River will be the subject of a major presentation at a research conference in Darwin tomorrow.

PhD candidate Gavin Morris and Adjunct Dr Miriam Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann (AO) will present on “Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives of researching in an Aboriginal community, challenges and opportunities” at Charles Darwin University’s (CDU) Higher Degree Research Conference.

The study was requested by the Nauiyu community and is the first time the Indigenous research methodology, known as Dadirri, has been used at home in Daly River.

Dr Ungunmerr-Baumann first brought Dadirri to national attention in 1988. Since then it has gained international traction and validity. Dadirri is based on the culture of deep listening and principles such as respect in community and relationship building.

Mr Morris said he believed Dr Ungunmerr-Baumann was a source of strength that the Australian community could do well to listen to and learn from.

“Miriam speaks really powerfully from a position of strength and resilience, not as a victim,” he said.

In mid-2016, the Nauiyu community at Daly River approached Mr Morris to undertake the truth telling project on their behalf. At the time, he was working as a member of the leadership executive at Daly River School and had developed a position of trust within the community.

“When the community started talking about wanting their own truth telling, wanting to be heard, I was in the right place at the right time,” he said.

The research design was constructed by the community; it privileges their world views and they have control of what the research is and where it goes. The presentation by Dr Ungunmerr-Baumann and Mr Morris will cover the three phases of the project.

The first phase “Turning trauma into story” was basically the truth-telling itself.

“Many community members said: ‘I want you to write down my story, so it won’t be lost.’ Participants felt strongly that they wanted their stories documented to stop the erosion of the knowledge,” Mr Morris said.

The next phase was “Looking back moving forward”, the narrative of how trauma transfers across generations and compounds from one generation to the next. This phase also looked at the educational experience and healing capacity of truth telling.

The final phase of the project was “Healing the cultural wounding”, which explored the traditional healing practices that exist within Daly River and the influences (good and bad) that impact on it. The relationship between the Western healing practices offered at the clinic and traditional practices were explored.

A key recommendation of the project was the need for an Ancient University, a standalone Indigenous healing centre. The Ancient University would have three functions: to house traditional healing practices, to promote self-determined healing in line with traditional culture and practices, and to provide education and employment training for non-Indigenous services providers.

“The Ancient University will provide service providers with a deeper understanding of the impact of colonisation, what happened, why it happened and where the community is going,” Mr Morris said.

Discussions are underway with CDU and Macquarie University to embed Ancient University modules in accredited courses targeting non-Indigenous teachers and health professionals.

Mr Morris emphasised that none of these findings should be considered transferable.

“Aboriginal communities are not homogenous and should be treated as such,” he said.

The presentation by Gavin Morris and Dr Miriam Rose Ungunmerr-Baumann is at the Mal Nairn Auditorium at CDU's Casuarina campus on Friday 6 September, 10.30am-11.15am.