The titles Indigenous, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander are colonial labels used to group many diverse cultures.
Thus, it can be offensive to some people to refer to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders using these terms. Before colonisation, Aboriginal people identified themselves by their country such as Worimi, Biripi, Awabakal and so on.
The terms Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander are generally accepted by Australia’s original custodians but try to avoid using the word Indigenous as it makes too big of a generalisation between Australia’s two original (and diverse) cultures. Although many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people generally accept the term Indigenous, it is more respectful to use the phrase ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.
Aboriginal, as defined by the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 (NSW) is ‘a person who is a member of the Aboriginal race of Australia, identifies as being an Aboriginal person and is accepted by the Aboriginal community in which the person lives’.
Torres Strait Islander
Torres Strait Islander, as defined in Section 7 of the Torres Strait Islander Act 1991 (QLD) is ‘a person who is a descendant of an Indigenous inhabitant of the Torres Strait Islands in QLD’.
The first letters of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander are always capitalised
Do no use the words ‘Aborigine’ or ‘Aborigines’ as they are linked back to terminology used in the periods of colonisation and assimilation.
Aboriginality is not defined by skin colour and a person’s Aboriginality should never be judged by their skin tone.
It is inappropriate to ask an Aboriginal person “how much” Aboriginal they are. Aboriginal people define themselves collectively as a community by their understanding of family connections and not by skin colour or blood quantum.
Keeping in mind that Aboriginal people were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands to live elsewhere, it is important to recognise that an Aboriginal community can include Aboriginal people from many areas in Australia. The traditional owners of our region are the Worimi people, but the Aboriginal community in the Great Lakes includes Aboriginal people who have moved from other areas to live here as well as people from this area that have moved away. An Aboriginal person may belong to more than one community — for example, where they come from, where their family is or was and where they might live or work. Community is about close and extended family ties, belonging and interrelatedness.
‘Country’ is used to describe a defined area of land associated with a distinct group of Aboriginal people (or nation). Forster, for example, belongs to Worimi country.
Use ‘nation’ to refer to a culturally distinct Aboriginal group and its associated country (area of land). For example, the Worimi nation is from the Great Lakes and Port Stephens area.
Dreaming is a hard concept to describe in English, especially when different Aboriginal nations have different definitions and understandings of the Dreaming.
In Worimi beliefs, the Dreaming encompasses the period of creation where our great Aboriginal ancestors/spirits shaped the land and waterways before returning back to the land, sea and sky. The Dreaming connects Aboriginal people with ancestral spirits and Aboriginal lore. It is timeless, meaning it never ends. It stretches from the past (creation) to the present (now) and on into the future. The term Dreamtime is often replaced with the term Dreaming to emphasise its timeless nature as well as the concept of creation — the transition from dream to reality.
Again, it is important to emphasise that understandings of the Dreaming or Dreamtime differ among nations and individuals.
An Aboriginal Elder is someone who has gained recognition in their community as a custodian of knowledge and has permission to share cultural knowledge and beliefs. Many Aboriginal people acknowledge Elders and community leaders as Aunty or Uncle, even if that person is not blood-related or kin as this is a sign of respect in Aboriginal culture.
Aboriginal lore provides rules on how to interact with the land and each other. Aboriginal lore is as diverse as the number of Aboriginal nations in Australia. Lore customs are learnt through the sharing of Dreaming stories. Elders were responsible for dealing with people who disobeyed the lore and would often decide and oversee the punishment. It was often a quick process and the community would return to normal short after. During colonisation, Aboriginal people were expected to abide by a new justice system which often conflicted with traditional Aboriginal lore.