Aboriginal Families

In a final article from Michael J. Evans for Reconciliation Week, he reflects on the important role of Aboriginal families in raising children.

Michael is a proud Indigenous man, with lifelong disabilities, identifies as a Torres Strait Islander, uses a wheelchair for mobility, and is a Service Manager at one of Yooralla residential accommodation services.

In Aboriginal culture the extended family plays a crucial role in raising children.

Child rearing is literally a family and community concern and is not confined solely to the parents of the child.

Unlike the wider Australian society, the whole Aboriginal community contribute to raising the child, giving mutual assistance and support to the parents.

The mother is the main carer for the child, but aunties, uncles, cousins and older siblings share the responsibilities for caring and raising the child as well (in some communities the mother’s sisters or the father’s brothers are also called ‘mum’ and ‘dad’).

Grandparents are very important people in the life of Aboriginal children. They often fill the role of ‘boss’ or protector for the children. They have real authority over their upbringing, and they teach them Aboriginal culture values and beliefs

The parenting role places great importance on letting the child know who they are in relation to their family, their kin, their people, their environment and the living spirits of their ancestors and land. These relationships help to define a child’s identity by defining how they are connected to everything in life.

The first thing that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children learn from an early age is whom they are related to. And as they get older their peer group becomes an important part of their learning. The children in this group are usually related to one another (as well there are some outside their kinship structure) and they spend most of their time together, playing and caring for each other, almost without adult supervision.

In fact, in Aboriginal culture, it is normal or okay for adults to not interfere in the child’s activities (unless it is necessary). By not placing too many restrictions or guidelines on children’s play and exploration, adults expose the child to ‘controlled dangers’ so that he/she can experiment and learn through risk taking. Within the peer group the child is so able to test his/her independence and develop within a caring structure.

It is from the interactions with peer groups and adults that the child learns how to behave.

Instead of telling the children how to behave or punishing them for misbehaving, discipline is commonly taught through humour, teasing and surprised responses, and sometimes even the use of scary beings.

In Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island culture generosity and compassion are seen as very important and desirable behaviour. Children learn unselfishness observing adults and peer group. They assimilate these values through copying the actions of others. For instance, by not denying the child’s wants adults show to the children unselfish behaviour. Moreover, sharing everything with the group is another example from which the child learns compassion.

Michael J. Evans

taum akadar

(pride in self)

About the Author

Michael is recognised as an Elder in many Aboriginal communities across western NSW and has over 20 years of experience as a formal mentor to Aboriginal leaders working in identified management positions in the NSW public service. Michael has over 30 years of experience as a wheelchair user and has provided formal advocacy and informal mentoring for persons with disabilities for over 50 years.

Michael has over 40 years of experience in senior and middle management roles including over 17 years employment with the NSW public service where he held senior positions such as Director Disability & Home Care Services in western NSW and over 15 years employment with Telstra where he held management positions such as Manager Corporate Services in regional Victoria.

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