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This is my truth.

I was born on Larrakia land (Darwin) where I spent my younger years surrounded by my countless cousins, aunties, uncles and my Nanny and Poppa. My culture was everywhere, in how we joked, what we thought and what we sang.

My first experience of being different came from my blonde hair, green eyed and white skinned sister who was sure I needed to get back into the bath because my knees were ‘still dirty’. I remember crying my eyes out and not being able to calm down. She was little and had obviously started recognising that most of the people at her school looked like her, not like me. Mind you, for a long time in our family she was the odd one out with her extremely fair skin that was unable to catch a tan and I assume she was trying to reflect her experiences onto me. Even all of our blonde cousins, aunties and uncles had tanned skin, not Hails, she would battle it alone until Keeley came along.

When we moved to Melbourne, I very quickly became the minority though. Our Melbourne family (dad’s side) were all non-indigenous. At school I was the only one who spoke like I did (apart from Hails), I remember making the conscious decision to stop saying ‘deadly’ or ‘sis’ at school because no one knew what I was talking about.

It wasn’t until I was about 9 that I really felt ostracised for being aboriginal. We were learning about Australian history and the Stolen Generation and when it was spoken about, I was pointed out. ‘Kayla’s family couldn’t look after their kids’ ‘Kayla is going to get taken’ I withdrew into myself and I remember I felt so ashamed. I grew burning hot and sick when my teacher asked me to debate how the stolen generation was a good thing for aboriginal people. I remember standing there not saying a word. Everyone was staring at me and I couldn’t help but think back to my nana, how she was taken from her family and all the pain and anguish that my family continue to feel because of this. The stolen generation was a good thing? It had never even crossed my mind that people would think this, but this was coming from my teacher. Someone I was told to respect; someone I was taught knew better than me. I don’t think I talked for the rest of the day. I didn’t even tell my parents what she had asked of me. I was confused and ashamed. I think that was the time that I became an expert compartmentaliser.

Compartmentalisation: A defense mechanism where someone suppresses their thoughts and emotions. It is not always done consciously but this can often justify or defend a person’s level of engagement in certain behaviors.

I became one person to white people, and I was another to my family. Only now am I trying to reconcile these two people.

I had managed quite skilfully to ignore the provokes I would hear about being aboriginal – if I was quiet, they couldn’t see me right?  When I got to high school, I developed sever anxiety, although, I didn’t know that was what it was at the time. I was having panic attacks EVERY. SINGLE. DAY before school and I honestly felt as though I was dying, I went to the doctors so many times and I was never diagnosed, so I continued to feel as though I was suffocating. I missed A LOT of school because of it.

What had triggered my anxiety in high school was a particularly vulgar class. The lessons would begin with a quick explanation of what we were concentrating on that day and then for the rest of the lesson the teacher and a student would exchange aboriginal jokes. I sat in humiliating silence class after class while they exchanged their ‘jokes’. When they laughed, they were laughing at me and my family. I went from a student who cared a lot about their grades, to a student who would hand things in late and with very little effort. My friends sat in silence while my torment went on and I remember feeling so far removed from everyone, not that I blame them, it’s such an awkward age. I tried distracting myself with chatter with my friend’s, but I couldn’t block it out. I remember finally getting up the guts to say ‘I’m aboriginal and I don’t like this’ my teacher gave me a dumb smile and didn’t say anything. The student said ‘oh, but can I just tell one more joke’. I was silenced again but to my relief, no one laughed at the joke that time. The teacher didn’t say anything to me. I was in and out of school the rest of  that year and when I did show up, I would be severely anxious and couldn’t concentrate in class. I was there only for my friends and to not disappoint my parents who worked hard to put me through school.

Sometimes I get the opportunity to feel safe with someone who isn’t Indigenous, and I share parts of my story with them. I am good at that; all minorities are good at predictive analysis. We know what signs to look for to show us when we are safe and when we aren’t. We look for people who will listen with the intention of learning. When we share and are ignored, we won’t share with you again.

When you haven’t walked in our footsteps and you decide what’s best for us, you design something ‘for us’ without us leading it, we won’t work with you again.

I ended up feeling safer in my protective skin because of these years. I studied in this skin, I made friends in this skin and I began my career in this skin. It never felt right though. Sometimes I would share a post on my facebook page that was about the injustice to Indigenous people and I would get little to no support. No ‘likes’, apart from my family and a select few. I felt alone and enraged, disappointed and sadden and then, I decided I couldn’t stand it anymore and I began the journey of ‘consolidating’ my two selves.

So now I am trying to figure out what this looks like, it feels lonely and scary, but it also feels like healing and recovering.  

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POV: Light-skinned Blakfulla

My name is Nova Garnier. I am a proud Indigenous Australian with blood ties into the Torres Strait Islands and Palm Island. I grew up on Noongar Boodjar (country) in Western Australia, and am currently living on Larrakia land in Darwin, Northern Territory.

I acknowledge the Larrakia people, whose land I currently reside. I thank them for allowing me to live on such beautiful country and I acknowledge their deep connection to both the land and sea. I pay my respects to Elders both past, present, and emerging.

Today’s blog is about a subject I hold very close to my heart and is a big part of the fabric of my being. I hope this blog brings some education and understanding around what it’s like to be a light-skinned blakfulla in 2020 and empowers others who may be feeling a little lost, and show them that they are not alone on their spiritual journeys.

“You’re too white to be Indigenous”

“Yeah but you’re not like the others ones. You’re one of the good ones”

“What percentage are you?”

My whole life I have heard these remarks. When others questioned my identity, it made me question my own identity. Growing up on the other side of the country, where my family was not from, I felt lost and like I didn’t belong.

It’s only in recent years, after reaching out to family and meeting other mob’s from all over, that I finally felt connected. It was at my first Indigenous Uni Games in 2016 in Brisbane (now known as Indigenous Nationals), that I credit to my full ‘spiritual awakening’. It was the energy in the room that awoke something in me. The energy in the songs, the energy in the dances, the energy that was sending vibrations throughout my entire body because of this collective group. Everyone just accepted each other for who they were. There was no questioning of identities, there were no ignorant remarks. Everyone just saw each other as their brothers and sisters. It helped me heal and I finally started accepting myself.

I’m still on my spiritual journey, and I still have days where I sometimes feel like I’m an impostor in my own skin. I’ve learned when this happens, to just breathe, lay down on the Earth, and have faith that the old people are guiding me and that I’m doing the right thing for myself and my people.

My roots now run deeper than these ignorant remarks.

My blood memory is strong and my connection with my ancestors is undeniably fierce. I draw upon their strength and their experiences to find my own power.

The education system let me down, and it let you down too. I’ve spent the last few years educating myself and decolonising my thinking. At first, it was my safeguard to have the ability and confidence to defend myself when my identity was being questioned by others. It has now grown into a necessity to walk in both worlds, to progress forward as a united Australia.

WE have the opportunity to move forward together, hand in hand, as one collective nation. A nation built on mutual trust and respect. A nation that recognises past wrongdoings, and commits to a better future. A nation that acknowledges and celebrates Indigenous cultures at its core. A nation in which all are welcomed and all are valued.

One of the projects I am actively involved in with Indigenous Business Australia is the Futures Forum project. At the start of this, we were asked to present our 50-year vision for Indigenous Australia, mine is as follows:

Aboriginality will not be defined by skin colour, geographical location, or social demographic, but in the DNA of the collective will be the DNA of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. In essence, the strong sense of self, belongingness, and connection that comes with that will flow through the veins of the generations 50 years from now. We won’t have to have NAIDOC and Reconciliation week because it will be a way of life. Every organisation will be embedded with this real and vibrant force and not just tokenistic.

Check out more from Nova below:

Nova xo