The colonisation of indigenous lands worldwide has created many conflicts and frustrations about the use and abuse of them . The consequences of this have also been that much of the traditional knowledge around the management and maintenance of lands has been ignored, or dismissed. On the other side of the equation, many settlers are suffering from a sense of disconnection and increasing unease at the dominant culture’s treatment of both the land they inhabit and the original inhabitants. Is a sense of shared custodianship potentially a way forward?
Jarmbi Githabul is a Ngarakwal / Githabul man living in the Byron Bay area of New South Wales. A community activist, traditional ceremonialist and custodian of country. He is also one of the founders of the R.E.A.C.H. project ‘Radical Empowerment of Australia’s Cultural Heart’. One of the principle goals of R.E.A.C.H. and its Rise Up Wise Up program is ‘to awaken the birth right role of custodianship in all indigenous peoples, connecting them to source and country, recognising ceremony and connection, standing tall and proud in heritage, and honouring our ancestors to create a better, abundant world for all.’
What is your perspective on how custodianship works in the R.E.A.C.H. Model?
‘In the Reach ‘business model’ we bring in the understanding of custodianship as not just being board members to a company, but being responsible for everything that company does; being responsible for everything your people do; for everything that comes out of your tribe. That’s how it works for us in the real world. When you’re responsible for something you take care of it. We’re responsible for our country. Like the elders say in Uluru, if you fall off that mountain they feel bad, because their country is them, and they’re responsible; as if they did it themselves. As if it doesn’t matter that someone was silly and made an error in judgement and hurt themselves. The fact is that someone died on their country.
‘Then you should be responsible for your own actions, but not responsible to the point where it gets handed on to a government or a legal system to sort out your matters. It’s up to you. It’s too easy to lay blame or pass the buck. In today’s society there’s always someone else who can fix it up, there’s insurance companies that can patch up your accidents or whatever, you don’t have to take it personally. Anything that you do you can lay it down to the corporate structure and don’t have any personal hardship out of it.’
The real law of the land is that you are responsible for yourself and when you are recognised as being someone that is responsible it means something.
What do you think about the role of custodianship in creating some reconciliation between the settlers of Australia and the Original Peoples?
‘We have that understanding that the Spirit of the Earth is being born into our youth, into everybody’s youth, everybody here today. Everyone who’s born in this country inherently comes with a bit of that spirit. The only thing I feel that gets in the way of them making something of it, or taking responsibility for it, is that they’re not supported to think that way. They’re supported to dig it up, to put it quite bluntly. They’re not supported to think of it as something that we should be taking care of. It basically comes down to people seeing indigenous people and the understandings and wisdom, and connection to spirit is not just something they go and watch a little show on – ‘someone’s playing a didgeridoo, let’s go and have a look’, like a little bit of entertainment.
‘Our culture is the key to the future; without it – everything is going to shit. It’s going right along the track that it’s going and everybody that stops and looks can tell it’s going to shit. But we’re sitting here, we’re waiting for people to come and talk. People like the climate council, (when) the government booted the climate council, the climate council shoulda went straight to the indigenous elders and said ‘right, let’s start linking up’. Let’s put the wisdom behind the science and we’ll start showing the world exactly what’s going on. There’s all the stories, all the star lore and all that sort of stuff that comes into the climate and everything to do with everything. We engender all parts of life.’
That sort of understanding needs to come in. Let’s have a look underneath our feet for the answers. There’s plenty of answers there, it’s all there. We’ve just gotta look. People have got to be supported to look.
What is the relationship between sovereignty and custodianship?
‘As sovereign beings we know our connection to the Earth. We know that we are custodians because we are born of the mother and the father. So we know. We know where we are, we know where we stand, we know our responsibility here and we also know our responsibility to each other. So for custodianship to be fully recognised your sovereignty does need to be recognised as well.
Where were you born, you were born in that area, that’s where you’re a custodian from. Where’s your bloodline, where’s your heritage? All of that comes in to making you who you are. There you go, you’re recognised, we receive you. Are you a respectful person, can we have a look? Yes, we see what you do. You do good things, you don’t talk bad about people. If you have an issue with someone you go straight up to them. There’s no need to run anyone down or do anything stupid because you know yourself, you know what you’re about. There’s no need to lash out, no craziness. You’re responsible for yourself and everything around you.
People get that from an understanding of sovereignty, that you are that. When we had our initiation stages, it was recognising that you are a sovereign spirit. That you are respectful, you are someone who looks after their own affairs. We can proudly send you out into the world to go walk-about and know that you can carry our name and you’re not going to dirty our name up. When you walk through someone else’s country you’re not going to do something stupid. You’re not going to do something stupid, you’re not going to steal their women. Or if you do you’re going to take responsibility, you’re not going to lie about. That’s the thing, you stand there and you say ‘yeah I did it, I mucked up – I’m gonna get boondy, I’m gonna get speared in the leg, yeah’. Take responsibility.
If someone’s thinking about custodianship for the first time, what would do you say to them. What’s the first step that you need to take?’
Who are you, or what are you? Sovereign spirit, born between a mother and father. Put here on this place to learn and to take care of it as you go through. So, taking care of this Earth, sacred sites. You know – doing the ceremonies that it takes in order to put back in. It’s just the basic stuff.
‘Connect in. Figure out who you are first and then walk it. Walk as you, and other people who walk as themselves and have respect in themselves will find it easy to respect you. Otherwise, if people who are giving you respect don’t respect themselves, it’s not true respect. Because true respect can only be given by someone who is respectful.’
You can find out more about R.E.A.C.H. and Jarmbi’s work at their website.
INTERVIEW BY MARK HELEY