Feeling Strong, Deadly and Proud on the Deaf Aboriginal Cultural Youth Camp


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    DCA was thrilled to be able to bring together young deaf Aboriginal people from all over Australia at Ngurra Bu

    It was fantastic to bring together a group of fourteen Deaf and hard of hearing Aboriginal young people from Victoria, NSW and Queensland for the second Deaf Aboriginal Cultural Youth Camp from 19 – 21 May.

    The aim of this camp was to help strengthen each participant’s sense of identity as a proud young Deaf Aboriginal person.  By participating in activities like smoking ceremonies, tracking animals and cave visits, they worked together to build friendships.  Their strong bonds allowed them to share their experiences and has helped them create a network of support for the future to enhance their communication skills and sense of identity, and so they don’t feel so alone in the challenges they face.   This camp also provided opportunities to receive guidance, friendship and support from Deaf mentors and volunteers who have experienced similar challenges.

    Thank you to Deaf Arts Accessible Arts, Lucy Guimelli Saini Trust and The Marian E.H. Flack Trust for funding and support which helped to make this wonderful camp possible.

    Kerryn, Hayley and Kaitlyn, who felt on camp “like we belonged”.

    Kerryn brought her two children Hayley (10) and Kaitlyn (7) to the camp. She explained just how special it was for them: “It opened up everything with Aboriginal culture for both the girls. They knew they were Aboriginal but they had never really connected. Now they are so proud of their heritage. That is so important when they are the only Aboriginal children at their school. We felt so connected with our spirits through activities like dancing, the clapping sticks and making headdresses with the emu feathers. It was just beautiful to connect again spiritually.

    “Kaitlyn and Hayley have a lot of challenges. They are both hard of hearing (like all of us in the family) and have autism and an intellectual disability. Hayley has also just been diagnosed with bi-polar depression and personality disorder. She had to leave her school and we need to find a new school that can address her needs.
    “On camp, they felt like they belonged for the first time. Hayley said, ‘I never make friends but I have so many friends here.’ It was like everyone there took the time to get to know and understand my girls. They didn’t feel left out. Hayley had a broken leg but everyone supported her every step of the way on our bush walk so she could see the cave paintings. We all felt united like one big family. I have never experienced that before in my life. Some of them started teaching us sign language and gave us sign names. We have all linked up on Facebook so now Hayley, Kaitlyn and I have those friends all around Australia who are deaf and Aboriginal.

    The camp literally changed my girls’ lives for the better. It has shown them that the future can still be bright with the right help. We will absolutely never forget this.”

    The Aboriginal cultural aspects were really enriched by the participation of the indigenous staff like Aboriginal leader Adam Drylie at the fantastic Ngurra Bu Camp in the Wollombi Valley, NSW.  ‘Wollombi, meaning ‘meeting place’, is a very significant ceremonial place for the traditional Aboriginal people.  Nearby Mt Yengo stands tall and is as significant for NSW Aboriginal people as Uluru is to the Central Desert people.

    A traditional smoking ceremony was held a few times. This is an ancient custom that involves burning various native plants to produce smoke. This is believed to have soul cleansing properties and the ability to ward off bad spirits. This was one of the highlights of the camp, along with the Aboriginal Dance, that created a stronger connection between everyone.

    DCA’s Camp Coordinator Debra Swann says, “The experiences of this camp were hugely positive. Everyone laughed, made friends, talked, danced, and learned about Deaf culture and Aboriginal Culture. One of the highlights was the Aboriginal Dance that everyone took part in. It was amazing and an inspirational moment.

    “The children and young Deaf and hard of hearing Aboriginal people ranged from 9 to 20 years but everyone bonded – along with the family members, staff and volunteers. The children and young people were able to share cultural experiences in a way that they would not normally be able to access because of their hearing loss.

    “This camp helped to motivate them to continue the connection with their culture. This was particularly the case for Shadrach who, for the first time, returned to his land where his mother grew up. He was able to connect to his mother’s land and learn more about his own culture with his mother joining him as well. Through this process, Shadrach learned that Aboriginal leader Adam Drylie was his fourth or fifth cousin. It was inspiring to see the connection and bond forming between them. Shadrach said, “I was shocked to find the leader my cousin – wow.  Really good to be here on my land for the first time. The dance last night was the best. Wow, enjoyed talking to everyone about everything, it was beautiful.”

    Deafness is a big issue for indigenous communities with Aboriginal people experiencing ten times the level of hearing loss and ear disease than non-indigenous Australians. Approximately 75 – 80 per cent of all Aboriginal children have had at least one episode of Otitis Media by the age of five. If left untreated, Otitis Media can lead to permanent hearing loss. If deaf children are not well supported and they are isolated by lack of communication, educational opportunities are reduced, which in turn leads to lower levels of employment, poorer living conditions, poorer health outcomes and increased social isolation as adults. Yet as Debra states, “If deaf Aboriginal children are encouraged to feel proud and strong, it can make a huge difference in their lives.”

    We look forward to working with Ngurra Bu Camp and Deaf Services Queensland to apply for funding for a week long camp next year. If you would like to contribute to this camp, please contact General Manager Development and Fundraising Noel Henderson on noel.henderson@deafchildren.org.au or phone (03) 9539 5362. If you would like to discuss the camp, please contact Camp Coordinator Debra Swannn at debra.swann@deafchildren.org.au or phone DCA’s Helpline on 1800 645 916.

    Photos courtesy of volunteer Kate Disher-Quill, Nathaniel Murray and camp participants.

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