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Living on Stolen Land: some timely poems on listening and humility

Introduction by Croakey: Living on Stolen Land is a timely, poetic “manifesto” from award-winning author and illustrator Ambelin Kwaymullina, just published by Magabala Books.

Kwaymullina (right) belongs to the Palyku people of the eastern Pilbara region of Western Australia. She is a writer, illustrator and law academic who works across a range of genres including young adult science fiction, verse and non-fiction. 

“I wrote this book for all the non-Indigenous people wanting to create better relationships with Indigenous peoples,” she said.

It is, she says, “a call to take meaningful action”.

“It is a guide to how non-Indigenous people can start to dismantle the toxicities of settler-colonialism across hearts, minds and worlds. And it is a hope for a more just future.”

The book’s beauty of language and clarity of thought could not have arrived at a better moment, amid Australian Government efforts, in the midst of a global #BlackLivesMatter movement, to play down our history and truth as a nation settled on stolen land. 

We are honoured to be able to publish two of the poems from Living on Stolen Land below, and a brief Q&A with Ambelin Kwaymullina, as a special #CroakeyREAD offering for our readers.

Credit: Living on Stolen Land by Ambelin Kwaymullina (Magabala Books $22.99), will be published 1 July and can be pre-ordered from Booktopia and all good booksellers.


Ambelin Kwaymullina writes

You are living on stolen land

What can you do about it?

This book is an exploration of my reflections on that question. It is a call to Settlers to take meaningful action – and by ‘Settlers’ I mean non-Indigenous peoples in Australia who have all inherited the benefits of the violent dispossession of Indigenous peoples through settler-colonialism.

I hope it’s useful to people wanting to create to changed relationships with Indigenous peoples. I wanted it to be something people could carry with them and take out and reflect on, something to help them respect the Indigenous sovereignties around them on journeys to decolonisation, for as I say in Stolen Land:

decolonisation …can only be born out of

and be answerable to

locally based relationships

with the sovereign Indigenous peoples

in whose homelands

Settlers live

work

play


Listening

Listening
can be an act
of transformative power
provided
it is done right

Listening
means understanding silences
Sometimes Settlers think
that where there are silences
about Indigenous peoples
it is the role of Settlers
to fill the quiet
But ask yourself
is there really a silence?
Are Indigenous peoples speaking
and not being heard?
Do Indigenous peoples want to speak
but have no opportunities?
Your role is not to occupy the silence
it is to celebrate
draw attention to
the Indigenous voices already speaking
Or it is to call out the barriers
of settler-colonialism
that prevent
Indigenous voices from speaking
Another kind of silence
is where Indigenous peoples
are choosing not to speak
This can be
for many reasons
including
because knowledge is sacred
restricted
To protect culture
from being misappropriated
or because there are some things
too painful to speak of
This kind of silence
should be respected
remembering
that sometimes silence also speaks

Listening
means understanding
that no one can listen to Indigenous peoples
while telling us
what we want
what is best for us
who we are
or who we should be

Listening
means learning to hear
the noise of settler-colonialism
inside your head
and all around you
so you can hear past it
to understand our voices
on our own terms

Listening means
you can hear the word no
not only hear it
but look for it
be alert
to all the ways Indigenous peoples are showing
we are uncomfortable with sharing

Settler-colonialism
is a serial violator
of Indigenous boundaries
Of lands
bodies
hearts
minds
we are continually pressured
to share
continually involved
in Settler processes
that don’t offer the choice
of saying no
such as heritage processes
where we are asked to speak
of sacred things
to have any chance of cultural protection
even though
culture often doesn’t get protected
anyway

Listening means
giving time and space
for Indigenous peoples to decide
what we want to share
on what terms we want to share it
or if we want to share at all


Humility

Humility is not a feeling
it is a standard
by which to assess your actions
A guiding star
by which to navigate
the complexities of building respectful relationships
with Indigenous peoples
Indigenous sovereignties
on stolen land

Humility means
not stepping in
to Indigenous spaces
conversations
but instead first asking
whether you should be there at all
and if Indigenous peoples
invite you in
asking yourself
what is a respectful way to contribute?
These questions
are not to be asked once
but over and over
Walking humbly
means walking slowly
considering
every step
every gesture
every word
every impact
shifting your pace
to respect Indigenous contexts
to adapt to Indigenous contexts
not expecting
Indigenous contexts to adapt to you

Humility means
understanding that words
ideas
about Indigenous peoples
have a weight and a cost
but if you are not Indigenous
that weight is not one you carry
that cost is not one you pay
which means
you cannot judge the weight
assess the cost
only Indigenous peoples
can do that

Humility
means taking responsibility
for your own learning
doing your best
to be as informed as possible
knowing
that you’ll still make mistakes
because no one can ever understand
Indigenous cultures
knowledges
realities
as Indigenous peoples do

Humility means
acknowledging mistakes
not in a way
that burdens Indigenous peoples
with making you feel better
but in a way
that demands nothing of Indigenous peoples
only of yourself