In Conversation with Auntie Cheri Yavu-Kama-Harathunian

In 2014 we are honouring Ambassadors for “The Decade of Lateral Love™ Around the World 2012 – 2022” with a special Interview Series

Lateral Love™ Ambassadors are talking about their life journey especially for you.

Cheri Yavu-Kama-HarathunianJoin us as Elder’s Wisdom Patron Auntie Cheri Yavu-Kama-Harathunian, our second cab off the rank for 2014, shares some of her amazing life with us.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart Auntie! Much love always, Little One.

Who are you and where were you born?
My name is Cheri Yavu-Kama-Harathunian. My Terabalang Bunda/Gooreng Gooreng name is ‘Cheddie’. In my mother’s language it mean’s ‘Blue Mountain Butterfly’. It was given to me because when my mother ‘knew’ she was pregnant with me a Blue Mountain Butterfly had settled on her stomach and was walking over her stomach and her womb. At the time, she was with a group of woman who were washing their clothes and swimming in the river at the Gorge Mission outside of Mossman. On my father’s side my maiden name is Minniecon. My father was our clan/family Patriarch. I was born the sixth child of eight.  I was born at Mossman.

Where are you from?
I am blest to be owned by Terabalang Bunda, Gooreng Gooreng and Kabi Kabi lands. Most of my childhood was spent around Mossman, Rocky Point, Cairns, Babinda, Aloomba, Townsville, Hughenden, Harvey Creek, Atherton Tablelands Lowmead, and Bundaberg. My other two sisters and five brothers were born in Bundaberg as was my father. My mother’s family trace their ancestry to John Pik Pik/Hill a Terabalang Bunda and Gooreng Gooreng man. So Terabalang Bunda country is where I come from.

Tell us about your family?
My father was first a drover looking after the cattle that my Grandmother Katherine owned on her farm at Lowmead. She bought the farm with the help of her father a white man and she and my Grandfather Jim Minniecon a South Sea Island man developed a thriving small cattle farm which was looked after by her and her seventeen children. Daddy was one of the younger children. Away from the farm he was the first postman in the region carrying mail to people from Miriam Vale, Lowmead, Bundaberg, Agnes Waters, and other hamlets, up to Gladstone. The farm is still in our possession and has been for 127 years. It was whilst Daddy was out in the bush taking care of the cattle that he had an encounter with the Ancestors and Creator Spirit. He was seventeen at the time. He went home and his parents knew something very deep had happened to him. He told his parents about what he had experienced. His mother said, that he would preach his first sermon to his family who were his first congregation. From this first sermon preaching, my father began to be recognised by our people as a spiritual man and he was asked to be the spiritual leader to those who lived in and around the Lowmead/Miriam Vale district. People began to call him Pastor. He taught himself to read and to write because he had to leave primary school at a very early age to work on the farm. The Circuit Preacher who came to Lowmead on a regular basis was of the Quaker Faith. He used to teach him how to conduct himself as a preacher man. He married, and my parents settled in Bundaberg where he took up cane cutting. My mother came from Childers. She was very fair and as she got older she became darker. Their marriage was what used to be called a wrong way marriage and there was opposition from Daddy’s family so they went to Bundaberg and got married there. Mummy used to do house cleaning for station owners and farmers. She was never out of work but she would always tell a potential employer that she would not work on week-ends. She used to accompany Daddy and sing gospel because she did have a very good singing voice. Together they would visit our people and gather our people together to have church our way. No matter where they lived they would open up their home to our people to come and talk with and share with him what they were going through. Some Elders in Bundaberg came to him and asked him to be their Spiritual Leader. So Daddy, Mummy, and her father decided to set up a church with the help of Bundaberg people, Mr Andy Long, Mr Andy Brown, Mr George Nagas and their wives, and others. They even had church in the open air at Paddy’s Island and on the river banks of the Burnett River.  Smaller groups would come and so he would put them all together in the lounge room and he would have house church with them. They were times where I felt my parents and my family kept me protected, safe and cared for.

What can you tell us about your early life and upbringing?
Life for me was watching my parents keep us one step ahead of the Welfare Officers of the Aboriginal Protector, and where Daddy could find work. Many times we would be living in a place like Townsville and after dinner  and before bed, our Mum would tell us to wear as much of our clothes as we could, and pack our school satchel with our shoes and other stuff because we would be on the goods train that night or early next morning. Usually someone from the ‘church’ would come and tell our parents that the Welfare people were in town and we had better be careful because we were being watched. That meant Mummy and us kids getting on the train, and Daddy staying behind and coming later after he had sorted out his employment situation. I must say I resented our being continuously uprooted and starting school all over again in a new place. I would always want to go back to my favourite place Rocky Point because that is where I started school. That was where we lived close to the sea and the rainforest. We walked along the beach to school and we were always able to find some bush fruit, mangos, pawpaw, bananas, sour sops, custard apples, gooseberry, five star, yam, oysters to eat on the way home. It wasn’t until I was re-married and in my forties that my father told me how we were hounded by the Welfare Officers because they believed we were neglected children and we needed to be sent to a home. I also loved Rocky Point because that was where my Mum would send me, as a four year old off into the bush for the day. She would pack my little dilly bag (a piece of cloth tied over a sturdy stick) with dried or smoked fish, damper, fruit, taro, fishing tackle, a box of matches, pencils and note book and I would spend the day, just exploring, and learning about my world. I never went hungry. I could catch fish on a line or in the fish traps Daddy had made in the creek. I’d ‘camp’ by the little creek and in the afternoon Mummy would come and join me and we would make hot water and have a cuppa together while she listened to all my discoveries.  At the age of four, for my birthday, my father gave me a Dictionary and my mother gave me a Bible and whilst I was playing in the bush I would practice writing the symbols of the alphabet and both my parents would help me to put them together, sound out and write words. By the time I entered school I was able to read and write quite well.

Who played the biggest role in your upbringing?
Besides my parents, my mother’s father was the most significant person in my life. My Grandfather was a remarkable man. He was a cane cutter by the time I was born. He had travelled back to his father’s Island Tanna Island, on one of the boats that bought the South Sea Island Slaves to Queensland to cut cane.  Indentured slaves were what they were called. Like my father, Grandfather taught himself to read and write. He too was a spiritual Leader ordained by our people in the Childers, Biggenden, and Mundubbera and Eidsvold areas. His mother was an Aboriginal woman from Maryborough. He used to conduct Sunday schools at Dr May’s Road, Payne Street, Tantithia, Avondale and Yandaran all the way up to Lowmead. He taught me about spirit, our Law, culture, learning, humility, truth, trust and faith.  Like my parents, he told me Dreamtime stories and their meanings. My parents and he taught me the seven principles of Aboriginal Law and the seven layers of Aboriginal Spirituality. He would stand me up beside his ‘desk’ and he would say “So tell them to me,” and I would go through each principle, with him prompting me when I stumbled. Then he would give me one of his favourite passages of the Bible to learn by heart. If I got them close to correct, he would put me on the bar of his bicycle and we would ride into town and sit on a street bench and eat an ice-cream together. He and my parents gave me the gift of a social justice conscious, and a deep sense of respect to search for spiritual meaning to my life. They also gave to me a deep and lasting respect for my culture and my ancestral heritage.

What do you remember about your schooling?
I think my schooling started long before I went to school. Our parents taught us that education was the way we needed to go to achieve our goals in our life. They taught us our culture, Law, lore, they were happy times. The biggest lesson that I learned in primary school was about racism. I learned that the world was not filled with black skinned people like me. At the age of five, being called a ‘stink thing’; a piece of snot; a demon; an Abo nigger; having my plaits dipped in ink or my hair rubbed in mud; slapped or spit on because I answered a question correctly; and called other demeaning things every day caused me to go inside myself at an early age. The crisis came and my parents found me down in the creek scrubbing myself raw with coconut husk. Blood everywhere. On being asked why, “I want to be white Mum, they don’t like me black.” Seeing my father crying while my mother held me really hurt inside me, and then they took me to Mossman hospital because I had done so much damage to my skin. Six weeks later I returned home but the sister a young nurse called Nurse Susan Walker talked to me every day about how beautiful black was, how old my culture was, and how fortunate it was for me to be born into an Aboriginal/Islander family. I got my centre back and schooling became just another hurdle that I had to find strategies to overcome so that I could stay focused. My best schooling happened on weekends and holidays when my parents took us bush. I was able to watch Daddy teach my brothers how to catch bush turkey, cassowary, wild pigs, kangaroo, echidna, possum, get wild honey, pull down staghorn for medicine, cut trees for canoes and spears, pull vines and bark for ropes. I used to love it when he used to ask me to help.

Are there any particular High School memories that have stuck with you? 
This was the time when the first Aboriginal students were being accepted into high schools. I still struggled with racism. Being the only black face in a sea of white faces was quite exciting but also quite daunting. I still learned to be quiet about my accomplishments particularly in reading and writing, the humanities and other subjects. History, geography, typing and shorthand and art were subjects that resonated with me. My last memory of high school was year ten and being asked by a Maths teacher, “Minniecon what are you going to do next year.” I replied that I would like to go on to year 12 and then go to university and get a degree in either journalism or sociology. He smacked the desk in front of him with the palm of his hand and then he pointed at me and said, “Get out of my classroom, get out and don’t come back. You will never get to university because Aboriginal people don’t go there. Go and get a job as a house maid because that is all you will ever be.” That was my last full day at high school. Grandfather came with me the next morning. I was able to attend all the other classes, but that teacher as soon as he saw me and Grandfather he said, “I thought I told you never to come to this class again!” Grandfather tried to say something, but the teacher just kept shooing us out of the room. My one friend, who was the CBA manager’s Daughter was the only one who tried to mediate on my behalf. Each afternoon, she would come by our home and she would sit with me and teach me all that she had learned that day. That is how I got through high school and sat for the tests which I passed with above average marks. I never sat for the Math Test because Math was all Greek to me.

Tell us about some of the experiences you encountered growing up?
The freedom of running through the rainforest or floating down the creek to run on the beach or swim in the sea; Always catching the goods train to go someplace else so as to be safe; Always trying to make friends at new schools, and hardly ever getting picked for school teams other than Debate teams; The joy of getting ‘A’ on my Report Card and shyly bringing it out at the dinner table to show my parents, whilst inside I was bursting; Church Conventions at Deeral, where hundreds of our people came together from all over Queensland to celebrate their Christian faith; discovering that reading a book up in a tree was a perfect place; Watching my oldest brother and the brother born before me get called up for the Viet Nam war and seeing them walk into our home when they returned; Getting my driving licence at Cairns; Jimmy Little and Eartha Kitt coming to Cairns; as a Pastor’s daughter singing ‘The Pub with no beer’ at a school concert and seeing my parents cringing down and me faltering in my singing,  and all the other church member parents looking at them and then seeing Daddy jumping up at the end of my song and saying, “That’s my daughter!” and clapping like mad; getting my first job as a ‘hello girl’ and meeting my first husband by stepping on his foot whilst getting morning tea for the telephone exchange staff; going into a voting booth for the first time; getting married; watching my mother enter the Dreaming and not being able to be with my grandfather when he went into Dreaming; having two babies when doctors thought either they or I would die; arriving at the hospital to be told my husband had gone into Dreaming and trying to console my son and daughter; getting kicked out of a church; starting university; marrying again with the blessing of my son and daughter; being present at the birth of some of my granddaughters.

How would you describe your personal life journey to date?
My personal life to date is a wonder to me. It is beautiful and it is filled with love. I have never be unemployed; I have seen wars; peace efforts; terrorism; my people given civil rights and seen them taken away; I’ve seen and personally experienced the beauty and the fury of nature in floods and fires; seen nations disappear and new nations appear; seen medical, scientific, and social miracles; I have been part of creating better models in research and management; I have travelled to places that I had only read about;  That I am still alive is a miracle in itself because I was told by doctors that my lifetime was very short; I love that I now live and work on the country that owns me. I believe that work that I have undertaken prepared me for future endeavours. I have travelled and worked in black communities in USA’s Deep South, England, Burma, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand; met amazing people; worked on amazing projects in Australia and overseas; and had two precious years to spend with my father learning his wisdom before the ancestors took him to Dreaming.

What about some of your work history, from your first job to some of your most memorable ones?
My first job was as a bus driver/carer to a group of older Aboriginal people who were returned to the mainland from Phantom Island to live at Redlynch Reserve in Cairns.  Some of them still needed to have their sores from leprosy cleaned and ointment and tablets to take; ‘hello girl’ at Gladstone Telephone Exchange; Pialba Exchange; Sydney International Exchange; ICI Sydney; Sydney Taxis; Victoria Army Barracks Sydney; Women’s Supervisor Edward Eager Lodge Sydney; WA Direct Carer Marribank Family Centre Katanning; WA Mature Aboriginal student Education outreach Centre Project Manager; Programme Officer United Nations Team Depovitisation of Women Programmes in 3 African countries; WA TAFE Prison Lecturer; Aboriginal  Curriculum Developer/Lecturer ECU; WA Programme Developer/A/c Coordinator Aboriginal Unit; WA Facilitator/Therapist Prison Treatment Programmes; WA 3rd team member Victim/Offender Mediation Unit; Facilitator/therapist Violent and Sexual Offender Prison Treatment/Community Programmes Dept. Corrective Services; Project Manager WA State Wide Aboriginal  Customary Law Project; QLD Aboriginal Programme Developer Division General Practice; QLD Coordinator/Lecturer CQUniversity Nulloo Yumbah Learning Spirituality and Research Centre Bundaberg Campus; QLD Director/Chaplain IWC Ltd. Working with men in prison gave me the opportunity to be taught about human behaviour by men who had committed horrendous crimes. They taught me so much about our humanity. I thank them for their teaching as I taught them to heal themselves.

Have you experienced Racism throughout your life?
I think I have shared about this previously. I still experience it however in forms of ‘You don’t look like an Aboriginal; I don’t see your colour I just see you and the person saying it does not realise that they are exposing their own racism; You an uptown nigga’ Sista’; You don’t dress like an Aboriginal (still trying to sort that one out); Go back to your own country (from other Aboriginal people).

What forms of Racism have you experienced?
Social and class racism; Lateral Violence racism; skin colour racism; stereotypical racism; racism in the workplace, educational and religious institutions; racism in health institutions; racism in the criminal justice system; prejudice and bias; racial assumptions; racial jokes and slurs; labels; harassment; discrimination; micro-inequities; individualisation of my collective cultural identity.

What do you see as one of the biggest barriers for Aboriginal people?
Remembering the past, not letting go and using it as a weapon. We ignore the fact that we have to positively and pro-actively let go of our past so that it does not control us in the present. We must remember our past but we must live in the present. The past has developed in many of us a Victim Stance and a Survivor Code that drives us to live our lives from a Welfare Mentality. This welfare mentality is a subtle expression of Lateral Violence that we perpetrate on ourselves and it disempowers us. It cripples our creativity, our humanity, our strength as a people, discombobulates our sense of identity and cultural connections. It imposes negative images on our sense of knowing and being who we know we are. This welfare mentality victimises our minds into accepting the images, the histories, the views, and opinions and the stories that others define us as, or tell us about ourselves. If we believe what others say about us we develop a collective survival mindset that motivates us to reject the very core of our ‘being’ our spirituality, and our spiritual connection to our sacred lands. Adrift in a spiritless state of ‘being’ we create masks to project ourselves into the real world and we morphologically become shadows of who we really are as we forever construct unseen and seen barriers for ourselves and others to survive. We have to reconnect to our Spirit so as to live in the present.

What is the one thing you do to get through the darkest of days when they present themselves?
I meditate, pray, and seek solitude by going bush.

What do you see as the potential solutions to the barriers you have identified?
Lateral Love™, educating our people our way about Lateral Love™, from when a child comes to their age of reason, taught in families, groups, schools and in communities. A Principle of Aboriginal Law is ‘Caring and Sharing’ with each other, with family and with others. I believe our Law Principles need to be taught in schools, in families and in communities. Our mobs have such diversity in the complexity of their cultural practices and protocols so how Lateral Love™ is packaged will have to fit with the people who are being taught.

We need to promote the Sovereign Rights of us as First Nations People of Australia.

Our people also need to be educated so as to understand what Lateral Violence is and how it has shaped us and moulded us into the images of us that have been constructed in the minds of non-Aboriginal Australians.

What are your plans for the future?
Until the Ancestors call me to Dreaming and Dreaming calls me to the Ancestors I will continue to support endeavours that promote and plan for the aspirations of real justice, true citizenship, and equal status of our people to be fulfilled in my lifetime. I want to work with others to see a First Nations Prime Minister of Australia. I want to work with others see a Constitution that has been developed on reconciliation, equity and equality.

How do you think Aboriginal people can more equally contribute to Australian society?
By giving our people a proper equal voice in the governance of this our Sacred Lands; By genuinely being who we are, First Nations People who are humbled by the fact that we are all living relics of a history and a culture that has been dated as 40-60,000 years old. By promoting social justice, equality, and equity in a way that embraces ourselves and others to Reconciliation that comes from our Spiritual connections to our sacred lands.

Who are your role models?
My Granddaughters; My Spiritual Master; My late Father; My Mother-in Law; My Skin Mothers Mrs Josie Boyle and Mrs Beth Woods.

What do you believe are the most important aspects of true leadership?

  1. An ability to lead from behind – Traditionally this was the way in which our Elders led, taught, educated, and dealt with issues that arose.
  2. An ability to be led from your spiritual core and not from your ego.
  3. An ability to show in words and acts humility, integrity, honesty, trust, love and compassion.
  4. An ability to be truly authentic and genuine, just to ‘be’ you.
  5. An ability to promote leadership qualities in those who are being led by you.
  6. An ability to promote and encourage innovation, creativity, originality, imaginative resourcefulness in self and others.
  7. An ability to be inspirational and a lover of the gift of life you have.
  8. An ability to be caring about how you are productive.
  9. An ability to be able to never let those who you lead to be asked to do something you have not done yourself.
  10. An ability to encourage transformation in self and others.

What would you do if you had 10 Million Dollars to benefit Aboriginal people? 
I would use it to create an Educational Institution that was based upon our own system of Education that is our Walkabout System where experiential learning was inclusive of a student’s whole family learning together about life and exploring other wisdoms from other worlds.

What is your passion in life?
My passion is to reach my fullest potential, to live my life not just exist. To live every moment, as if it was my last moment, in this life.

What motivates you?
My spiritual connections to Creator Spirit, my ancestors and my sacred lands

What are the top priorities you would have, if you were Prime Minister?
Cut out welfare payments for the unemployed and integrate it into a work-to-receive payment system.

Dismantle Peak National Aboriginal Organisations and call a Referendum for Aboriginal people to prioritise the issues as they see them and then go to the local and regional communities to select representation to a re-organised national organisation where those selected are answerable and responsible to National government and those local and regional communities who selected them to be their representative. In all there should be a Peak National Aboriginal organisation with 7 State and 2 Territorial representatives who govern the regional representation of the Peak National Aboriginal Organisation. The Regional representations are responsible to our people for articulating our citizenship responsibilities and strengthening our political consciousness with regards to human rights, Sovereign Rights, political rights, and Aboriginal Australian consciousness.

Develop programmes that promoted a National consciousness about Sovereignty and Reconciliation

Find a legal and binding way to introduce Aboriginal Law into the Westminster Law

Develop programmes that promote unity, solidarity, harmony, cohesion, commonality, unanimity under two flags, our flag and the Australian flag.

What do you feel our children must have to reach their full potential in life? 
A quality education that is based on a system that promotes lifelong learning. Where they can see, they, as Aboriginal descendants are honoured and esteemed from within their culture and their identity.

Tell us about one of your proudest moments?
Being told by my father that he was humbled by what I had achieved in my life and holding me in his arms very tightly, then holding me at arm’s length and wiping the tears from my eyes as he let me see his tears fall.

And one of your saddest moments?
Standing beside the coffin of my first husband and watching my son and daughter place on it a red and white rose alongside my yellow rose.

If you could create the perfect society what would it look like?
That is a difficult one because we would have to consider the seven pillars of any society; family, religion, business, arts/entertainment, media, education and government. These essential pillars of a society create our culture out of which Law is birthed. Can an Idiocracy happen? I don’t know. I think about what Albert Einstein said, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honours the servant and has forgotten the gift.” If we, as a society, can bring back balance between the servant and the gift, I think we could create a society that works toward perfection not a perfect society because we are not perfect human beings. However who is perfect enough to assess it as a ‘perfect society’.

Do you know much about Cultural Safety? 
I think I do. I practice it every day. In terms of ‘cultural safety’ I believe I have a responsibility to ensure that my words and my actions will provide an environment around me where people experience a sense of peace and where they feel safe. It is an environment where my identity and the identity of others is respected, valued, appreciated, honoured and celebrated.

What does it mean for you to personally feel culturally safe?
Where I can be in an environment in which I can live, breath and behave within my culture where my cultural identity is the basis from which I can interact with others. I can express my ‘beingness’ with authenticity and genuineness, and behave in a way that promotes generosity, trustworthiness, peace, harmony, love and appreciation toward myself and toward others.

What do you see as the necessary foundations for mutually respectful relationships to be formed between all Australians?
An Australian Constitution that is based upon a Charter of Rights, Citizenry Responsibilities and Freedoms to which the government has to be committed to.

What does your role as a Lateral Love™ Ambassador mean to you?
Way back in 2012 I was asked to be a Patron of Lateral Love™. As an Ambassador I see my role as promoting those attributes that enhance Lateral Love™. To me Lateral Love™ is wrapped up in a Biblical Book called 1Corithins Chapter 13, Verses 4-13. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. 12 Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” I try to practice this kind of love in the life that I live. I know I stuff up mega, but it does not stop me from trying.

How important do you feel Lateral Love™ is for the future of our families and communities?
I think that first and foremost our peoples need to understand what Lateral Love™ is. When I was asked to be the Elders Patron, I really thought about this concept and I came up with a definition for myself, so that I could relate to people about it from my own understanding.

Lateral Love™ is a Spiritual and personal awakening to an awareness of being motivated from a space and place of selflessness. It begins with a person recognising that loving themselves is a gift from Creator Spirit that is to be offered to others so they too can love themselves. It articulates itself in the ebbs and flows of transformative words and deeds that are vibrant, life giving, creative, healing, silencing of ego, powerful in humility, meekness, and compassionate in expressions of Grace and Mercy. Lateral Love™ embraces and encompasses deep respect for commonality, difference and diversity whilst maintaining integrity in the valuing of all of life seen and unseen, animate and inanimate. Lateral Love™ responds, it does not react.  Lateral Love™ is the silent, invisible current of pure energy that unites the wisdom and knowledge of our unique oneness as humanity and enfolds us into our interconnectedness in time and space.” (Yavu-Kama-Harathunian, C.D.: 2012)

I believe that if our families, our children and our communities can learn to love life from a Lateral Love™ perspective, we would become such a collective and powerful force in our country.

Tell us about your grassroots community involvement?
Not a day goes by where I am not in some way involved in my community. As a Chaplain and an Elder, families connect with me. I am also involved in just being available, on the phone, face-to-face, socially or in my work. I think it is because most of the families where I live had a deep respect for my father and that has somehow been gifted to me. When I get young people around me and we just yarn, a feeling of fulfilment occurs. When I am with other Elders, just for a yarn, I listen. I have to because I have to learn so much from them. When I am with children, just for a yarn, we play, and we share secrets. It’s a beautiful thing being involved with people in my community, who give so much back to me for just being with them. I think my community involvement has extended since I took up the position of Chaplain at IWC here in Bundaberg.

What would you say to people who are reading your story and may have been through or be going through similar experiences to yours?
I would say, “thank you for taking the time out of your very busy life to read what I have shared. I hope that I have not offended you in any way.”

How do you define Lateral Violence?
It is like a ‘yellow snake’ that battled with our Rainbow Snake. Rainbow Snake won that battle, but that ‘yellow snake’ came back into our lands with the first boat people. It has crawled deep into the very hearts of our sacred country and our people. I wrote about it a while ago. It’s like our original oppression has turned inward and we now behave outwardly from that inward oppression. What is important to me is that people who do training in areas of violence are educated by our people to deal with Lateral Violence. DV, FV, PV, PsychV, MV, EV are manifestations of Lateral Violence. Lateral Violence is the cause of DV.  DV is not the cause of itself; it is a symptom of Lateral Violence. Until people who write programmes, or develop strategies understand Lateral Violence they will forever be dealing with the symptom and not the cause of the hurt, the pain, the spiritlessness the shame that our people have carried since the invasion of 1788.

Can you explain your understanding of what the Colonialist impact has been for our Aboriginal and Islander families and communities? 
The Colonial impact upon Aboriginal and Islander communities was like a cancer, a slow disease that has eaten away at our culture, our connection to country, our connection to Spirit and Law and our identity as a people. It took us just over two decades to understand what happened. This was partly due to the fact that we were told by the colonial invaders that we were who ‘they’ told us we were; our culture was what ‘they’ defined it to be; our law was what ‘they’ assessed it to be; our spirit was what ‘they’ said it was. Very few of the invaders and their descendants have really given us anything of value. Rather they have given us their interpretations, views, opinions, ideas, analysis and judgments of us as a people and we were being brainwashed into believing their interpretations to be the truth. That is what the Colonial legacy to our people has been.

What do you think we need to do in order to improve the future for our young people? 
I think if we gifted to our children a deeper education of Lateral Love™ our young people’s futures would improve.

I know you feel passionately about the recent statistics in the media regarding Aboriginal youth suicide, can you tell us how you feel and why? 

I feel outraged. Every time we lose a young person, we snuff out the future of our peoples aspirations.  That young person could have become a Mozart, a Ustad Ahmad Lahauri or a Jørn Utzon a Maggi Thatcher or Goff Whitlam, a Nelson Mandela or a Martin Luther King, a Jimmy Little, or  Aretha Franklin, and we lost them to the anomie of suicide. How can you teach something to someone who believes they have nothing to live for. I know it is possible.

Has suicide touched you personally?
It came close to me when one of my first cousin’s children attempted suicide, after the attempt, we as a family came together, and worked with the child to show them how much value they are to us and to themselves. It was a long, long journey but because we dealt with it as a family the burden was made easier. We all learnt a lot. The last I heard was this child, was now at university doing an architectural Arts Degree.   I think that if our young ones knew just how precious, how wonderful, how longed for they were, perhaps they would love themselves with more care. Several of my relatives have lost children as young as 12 to suicide. I think the statistics should be used to resource our people with life learning strategies, with interpersonal caring strategies, with self-appreciation strategies.

What advice would you offer to a person who is struggling and having suicidal thoughts? 
The first thing I would do was take them into my own home and create an atmosphere whereby they could just ‘yarn and yarn’ with me. I would not give them any advice but I would assist them to work out their own positive life giving self-advice. If they do not ‘own’ the advice they will not follow it, or would follow it for a short time, then fall back into their old ways of thinking again.

Do you believe there are links between suicide and Lateral Violence? 
Very much so, the links are from what the original oppression has done to their parents, and many young people will pick up on the hurt, the pain, the spiritlessness of their parents. However, they do not have the ability to communicate what is going on inside of them for fear of becoming like their parents. They fear to disclose to their parents because in doing so, their parents will often delve deeper into their own cesspools of past pain, shame, guilt, and woundedness and they try to help their children out of this desolate place even when they see that what they are doing to the child is devastating the child’s will to be part of life.

Colonisation and the manifestations of Lateral Violence are difficult topics to comprehend. Where do you think we should start?
Education! I think we need to start with educating about Lateral Violence first and then educate about how colonisation played its part in Lateral Violence. It’s back to front learning, but if I were to learn about Lateral Violence, I would be better informed to learn about the part colonisation played in the development of Lateral Violence.

Can you tell us what helps you to feel empowered to lead a fulfilling, meaningful life?
By embracing with joy each new day of my life with an attitude of gratitude. Reading Sacred Text about any circumstance that arises in my life and meditating on what the Sacred Text says about it. Loving myself and others; being kind wherever I can be kind and caring; listening as much as I can to other peoples wisdoms and their heartbeat; finding solitude and quietude so as to maintain my inner centeredness; daring to take risks; keeping short accounts with those who are close to me; respecting the life histories of others; squeezing life out of every moment I am blest to live.

What is your purpose in life?
To reach my full potential in all that I am and all that I do. To be the best Mother, Wife and Grandmother that I can be and leave that as a legacy to my children and grandchildren. To be an enabled, thankful, empowered, and beautiful human being who can be known as an Ambassador of Peace.

Thank you for letting me participate,
Much Love Auntie Cheri

One thought on “In Conversation with Auntie Cheri Yavu-Kama-Harathunian

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