People and Places
25/11/2020
Taking care of Indigenous women’s business

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Willum Warrain’s Taneisha Webster is taking care of business. Indigenous women’s business. Intent on providing a sacred space in Hastings for women and children to come together to forge strong, supportive connections, this Executive Officer Women’s Business and her facilitators are creating a sense of belonging for many Indigenous women who feel isolated. 

Taneisha explains: “Willum Warrain’s sacred space for women and children to gather safely not only builds female-to-female bonds, but also offers a place for all women to sit in their Aboriginal identity. This is a space for women only. There is equity here and a cultural engagement which Aboriginal women may not be getting anywhere else. Everyone has a voice. No one ever feels shamed, and the importance of sharing positive cultural memories with female Aboriginal Elders gives a sense of intergenerational connection while building future relationships. We have a lot of fun too. Whether it’s participating in ceremony,  dance, or dancing with our children, harvesting bush tucker and resources, weaving or art, the key purpose of women’s business at Willum Warrain is to be Aboriginal. Learn about culture. Live women’s culture.”

Looking after the physical and mental health of Aboriginal women here on the Peninsula comes with its challenges because Aboriginal women have been affected by a double layer of oppression. There is also a great sense of loss around culture and ceremony. 

Taneisha continues: “We engage in ceremony and cultural practice that supports Aboriginal women to feel culturally strong and gives mums the opportunity to teach their children. Dance is really important for Aboriginal culture, and each group at Willum Warrain has been learning dance. We are trying to create environments for yarning and shared learning, a sort of natural transmission of knowledge and culture. 

“A significant ceremony for our gathering place is our Welcome Baby to Country ceremony, which is for Aboriginal children under the age of two and involves Aboriginal Elders Aunty Dyan Summers and Uncle Shane Clarke painting up the children with ochre, a smoking ceremony and giving our children Bunurong language names. 

“Empowering women in our community to look after themselves throughout pregnancy, while raising children and later in life is part of what we do. We encourage women to develop safe and positive relationships, share cultural knowledge and learn history.

“We try to support Aboriginal women to create their family narrative, to understand their history and how it impacts them today. We teach them traditional practice like how to make and burn possum skin cloaks, which are traditionally created by family and given to babies and grow in size with the child. We share cultural knowledge. For example, tullum or she-oak trees are spiritual trees, a food source and a tool. When the tullum trees shed their leaves, Aboriginal women know this is a safe place for the children to play as the leaves deter snakes. We are striving to make intergenerational change for our community through cultural strengthening and community connection.”

This proud 28-year-old Indigenous woman and her women’s business facilitators are building Aboriginal women’s resilience from the ground up. One day at a time. Kudos to them.    

LIZ ROGERS

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