Introduction by Croakey: The roles of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders as cultural knowledge holders, trailblazers, nurturers, advocates, teachers, survivors, leaders, hard workers and loved ones are being celebrated during National NAIDOC Week.
“They guide our generations and pave the way for us to take the paths we can take today,” said a NAIDOC Week statement.
“We draw strength from their knowledge and experience, in everything from land management, cultural knowledge to justice and human rights. Across multiple sectors like health, education, the arts, politics and everything in between, they have set the many courses we follow.”
The role of Elders in health is celebrated in the article below by Nikyah Hutchings and Verity Leach, writing on behalf of the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO).
Nikyah Hutchings and Verity Leach write:
This year’s NAIDOC Week theme is, ‘For our Elders’. This is a concept in action in Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) and Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) around the country.
Working hand in hand with Elders and older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, these organisations revere the wisdom and experience of older generations, and integrate that knowledge into the way they operate.
Today, the ACCHOs and ACCOs are aware they stand on the shoulders of the Elders and older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who are responsible for establishing systems and structures outside of the mainstream, to improve the health and wellbeing outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across the country.
These organisations are not only part of the fabric of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, ACCHOs are now considered a leading model for primary healthcare in Australia and the world. Working alongside ACCOs, they deliver culturally secure and effective services, fostering engagement and improving health outcomes.
Gunditjmara Aboriginal Cooperative and Kura Yerlo are among many organisations that have designed programs and events specifically tailored to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders. These initiatives aim to encourage cultural engagement, promote social connections and facilitate health and wellbeing.
Gunditjmara Aboriginal Cooperative Men’s Group is aware of the significant role of Elders in their community, what they have fought for, the culture they know, their wisdom and the importance of providing the space for that wisdom to be shared with younger generations.
Levi Geebung, the Social & Emotional Wellbeing Caseworker who leads the Gunditjmara Aboriginal Cooperative Men’s Group stated:
“Elders are one of the main driving forces for why we do what we do, this is the passing down of knowledge and culture. If it wasn’t for the teaching I’ve received from my Elders, I wouldn’t be able to pass that knowledge on to those who attend our men’s group.”
Gunditjmara Aboriginal Cooperative Men’s Group work with their Elders on the Gunditjmara lands in South-West Victoria and Warrnambool.
By providing a safe and supportive space, the Men’s Group encourages participants to share experiences, develop strategies to overcome personal and community challenges, and foster positive relationships between Elders and young men.
Through weekly meetings, the group nurtures an environment where stories are shared, Elders’ knowledge is embraced, and cultural practices are honoured. This peer support, mentoring, and positive role modelling contribute to the resilience and empowerment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men, who will become the Elders of tomorrow.
Speaking about the transformative power of cultural connection, Levi Geebung said: “Once I started to find culture, I started to find who I was.”
Across the border, on the Kaurna Meyunna Yerta lands in Port Adelaide, South Australia is Kura Yerlo, a multidisciplinary ACCO developed by Elders that stands as one of the longest-running Aboriginal-specific children’s centres in the country.
The foundations of Kura Yerlo were to ensure cultural knowledge was preserved and handed down to younger generations with the main aim of keeping Aboriginal practices of artefact making and storytelling alive and well.
Community Elder Aunty Dawn Likouresis said: “Culture is given from birth through language, input, and connection to our kinship. But to many, it was deprived. We must keep strong to show the world that we are still strong in our beliefs and Aboriginal culture.”
Culture forms the foundation of Kura Yerlo’s initiatives, ensuring that every program and endeavour is deeply rooted in Aboriginal traditions and values. The organisation “stays true to our roots, our Elders contribute to our governance structure as an ACCO”, said Darcy Godden the CEO of Kura Yerlo.
The health and wellbeing of Elders is a priority as is the health and wellbeing of our future Elders and older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. One notable initiative is the no-questions-asked food hamper program, which offers support to over 15 Elders, including those raising their children and grandchildren.
By prioritising culture and respect, Kura Yerlo paves the way for a brighter future, reinforcing the importance of community and the transformative power of embracing local traditions.
The remarkable contributions of organisations like Gunditjmara Aboriginal Cooperative and Kura Yerlo, embody the essence of this year’s NAIDOC Week theme, For our Elders.
These organisations have demonstrated an unwavering commitment to cultural engagement and connection and the provision of support for Elders and families.
Their efforts go beyond mere acknowledgment; they actively foster resilience, empower communities, and play an instrumental role in shaping a stronger and healthier future with Elders occupying a central position in their endeavours.
See Croakey’s archive of articles on the ACCHO sector