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Unsilencing the Aboriginal woman’s voice

By Bridget Cama


Calm down!  – Relax!  – Take a chill pill!  – Woah… so much sass!

You’re such an angry black woman…

These are comments that I (and many of my female Aboriginal friends and colleagues) receive on a regular basis. As Aboriginal women, we have and always have been strong, authoritative figures in our communities and families. Leaders – Holders of knowledge and Skills – Elders – Mothers – Givers of Life. Why then, is it so challenging for an Aboriginal woman to have an opinion or to advocate for rights and changes to be made?


The effects of colonisation and the institutions that have grown from this ongoing event have resulted in the oppression of Aboriginal women’s voices, their knowledge and their role in Aboriginal and mainstream society. From early colonial records we see the beginning of what results in the assumption that Aboriginal women are submissive. We see descriptions and reports, which are written through a lens of the Western concepts of gender roles and nuclear families, cut and pasted to describe the functioning of an Aboriginal family. These totally dismiss the role of women in Aboriginal society and further silence their voices. This practice of silencing Aboriginal women continues today.


The imposition of Western knowledge systems and Eurocentric ideas of gender continue to control the definition of Aboriginal women, silencing and assuming that we are without any social power, knowledge or history.  As Deborah Bird Rose points out, even in the structure of land rights hearings, there is the idea that men are the ‘central actors in society’. Ultimately, this has devastating effects on Aboriginal women, our knowledge and the protection of sacred women’s sites.


In pre-colonial times, and in various parts of Australia today, Aboriginal women hold large amounts of traditional knowledge, and manage law, rituals and sacred places. However, institutions continue to marginalise Aboriginal women and disfranchise their relationship and knowledge of country and culture. This silencing of women’s voices allows for stereotypes and myths that men dominate Aboriginal society, and that women merely exist in subservience.


My world, however, works in contrast. As a young Aboriginal woman, I am surrounded by strong Aboriginal women (both young and old), who are anything but subservient. They are women who have stories of survival, strength, grief, love and pain. What all of these stories have in common is that they are stories that continue to inspire and remind us of how we came to exist. Aboriginal women, pre and post contact with Europeans, have played important roles in all aspects of society. Don’t let biased reports and descriptions by old white men fool you. The truth is, we have always been ‘angry black women’, as some may put it. Every action, every word that makes those people go into defensive mode is another step closer to breaking the idea that Aboriginal women don’t have anything to say. We are not and never have been subservient actors in our culture, societies and families.