Reflections on the Rise Up approach – Michaela Spencer

Feedback from Michaela Spencer, project assistant.

I joined the IGLDP project in mid-2014, after the completion of Stage 1. I became involved in the work that was happening in Milingimbi with the Nyalka Women’s Corporation, and at Wurrumiyanga I began supporting Tanyah and Joanne Nasir with their Rise Up workshops. These workshops were conducted by Indigenous facilitators, and directed towards Indigenous people. For this reason, it was a very privileged position that I found myself in, being able to witness this work as a nonIndigenous facilitator myself only just beginning to learn about ways of working in Indigenous communities.

As I became involved in the Rise Up workshops, it was immediately possible to see that working with Indigenous facilitators was a very special thing for the participants. They immediately felt at home, and there was no need to put on a façade, or to feel ‘shy’ as they might when beginning to work with nonIndigenous trainers or experts. They arrived at the workshops interested to learn about what we would be doing that day, but also to hear Tanyah and Joanne’s stories, and to be able to trace out their family links and to relate to these facilitators not just as distanced teachers, but as members of their own community who were doing new – and very commendable – things.

As the workshops unfolded I was able to see Tiwi people beginning to relish the freedom that these settings offered. For some the workshops seemed to offer an opportunity to discuss governance in ways that did not just address questions of compliance and rules, but also allowed many other things that needed to be opened up as well. Issues of land ownership, fighting families, elders authority, football and skin groups could all be voiced and negotiated as part of an important and general conversation about new tangible solutions and possibilities for Tiwi people. And it was in having these things heard, that a sense of relief and hopefulness could arrive.

People also responded to being offered positive feedback and encouragement for their contributions. No matter how difficult it was for people to speak up, or how long it took them to contribute, their offerings were welcomed with praise and positive reinforcement. It was quite amazing to see the impact that this had on people, as they began to experience, feel, see and touch a lived sense of community at the same time as they participated in conversations around Western governance and its relation to Tiwi Ways.

This positive reinforcement was given regardless of where people were at, and as quite separate to any other struggles or traumas that participants might be facing. At times, being offered this opportunity to experience a sense of competency and being valued whilst also trying challenging and new things seemed to have quite a miraculous effect on the individuals participating and the group in general.

There was no ‘shame’ produced in any of these discussions, or any of the difficult questions and learning around things going on in the community and ways that things might change. Instead the approach seemed to allow people to be able to turn this dynamic around and to be able to speak knowledgeably and with great experience about this thing ‘shame’ which can cause so many problems for Indigenous people. And it was in doing this that possibilities for change seemed to open up, and people experienced a new sense of hope and vibrancy in their learning experience.

Watching and assisting, but trying not to get in the way, I felt as though I witnessed a remarkable and spontaneous joyousness on the part of Tiwi people who were involved in these events, and as they revelled in the experience of ‘being Tiwi’ but in relation to new contexts and sets of practices.

This may be an outcome which can also be achieved by skilled and sensitive nonIndigenous facilitators, working carefully with people in communities. However, here there was something of an immediate and quite amazing effect that occurred as Tiwi people, for the first time, experienced working with skilled Indigenous facilitators to whom they were related, and with whom they felt personally connected.