Thursday, June 14, 2012

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Protocols

I feel like today I have had to write this note, regarding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Protocols, after having several misunderstandings in less than 24 hours. I have to say straight up that I am not an expert in this field, but as a strong, proud Aboriginal woman with ties to the Kalkadoon and Gunggari peoples on my Dad and Mum's sides respectfully, I have been placed in a position where I have to explain this for my non-Indigenous friends.
In a space of two days, I have had 3 instances where Intellectual Property, Cultural Integrity, and the issues of sharing information about deceased peoples, has come up.

I am not here to name name's, because I have some absolutely wonderful non-Indigenous friends whose friendship I value, and have shown courtesy and respect. I also have to say that a lot of our community members also have friendships with people who feel very strongly about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and our culture. People who have rallied and lobbied tirelessly for Black Deaths in Custody, Education, Land Rights, etc to name a few of the issues.
But at the same time that we have these people who are passionate about our culture, there are still instances where Aboriginal protocol has been totally forgotten, perhaps in their desire to feel connected, and to share in their personal associations.

The first instance of this came to me 2 days ago through a particularly long story published here on Facebook about a traditional man from the Northern Territory and a younger man who was dealing with alcohol abuse and domestic violence. I was so incensed when I read this personal story I had to write something which I very rarely do, telling of my dispair over the telling of these types of stories in such a public forum as Facebook. I can't tell you how upset I was to read this story. The only way I could explain it is like so. Again we have another white man who just because he has lived in the Central Desert region, and had associations with Aboriginal Elders, published a story in Facebook, felt he had permission to tell this mans story. I am sure he meant no harm, but the story contained many disturbing facts, insulting and derogatory language and left me feeling insulted for the people who he was speaking about.
The second instance had to do with the use of a deceased Aboriginal man's name. Again not naming anyone, but one of the members in this group pointed out that the use of deceased persons name in a public forum needed to have permission and that previous media had been referring to this man using a familiar term from the Northern Territory. So the issue of permission from family members came up. I tried my best to explain to all parties that in some cases where material is published and in the public domain, in this instance, the case was a Black Death in Custody, and still before the courts. Now for the record, and again I am NOT an expert, but there are certain protocols that need to be considered related to the publishing any materials containing deceased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This included use of images, video footage, audio recordings as well as music. I had a run in with a very good friend who thought they could share private and personal photos of a deceased relative, who happens to have a public profile. Lucky for me, I have privacy settings on all photos of deceased family members, otherwise this situation could have been worse, so none of my family photos can be shared without my permission.

To find out more about naming of deceased Aboriginal peoples, click here

The final issue was the use of Traditional Dreamtime Stories, again I am not naming anyone in particular, but the use of Dreamtime stories needs to have permission from the relevant Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders. These stories should only be told where permission has been granted. I can not and will not speak on behalf of another tribe or nation. There are protocols that must be adhered to, this also goes to the use of traditional artwork, traditional songs, dance etc.
I am writing this because I think this issues needs to be addressed. I believe that all non-Indigenous people when sharing information about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Culture, Intellectual Property and other materials (audio, video, photographical, arts and crafts) should aware of these protocols, to protect this valuable information and to protect themselves. If its so important to share this information, at least be aware of how distressful sharing of personal information that doesn't belong to you can be. We are a strong nation, and as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, we have a right to say how our information is used in a public arena.

I have attached a link here to this note for anyone who wants to find out any more information. Please be informed, and make it your business to find out about these protocols. Visit the link below: