Shona Russell, Australia
The South Australian Link-Up service which is part of a national network operated through over fourteen Indigenous community organisations in Australia began its work through Nunkuwarrin Yunti in 1999. There are few Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people whose lives have not been touched by the assimilation policies of Australian governments whose respective laws saw the systematic removal of thousands of Aboriginal children from their families and communities. The devastating effects of this forced removal of children, the Stolen Generations impacts each new generation of Aboriginal Australians. Link-Up services aim to assist members of the Stolen Generations, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have been adopted, fostered or raised in institutions, as well as the families of people who have been separated from their children, to trace and be re-united with their families by offering a range of services.
The work for Link-Up team members involves conversations and research in response to the grief, loss, and trauma related to historical injustice. Their work is also a testimony to stories of hope and determination for finding lost family members and an opportunity to highlight stories of survival.
Narrative approaches have been embraced by workers from SA Link-Up who have become vitally interested in the metaphor of story and journey as it relates to the lives of those they work with.
Team members who have completed a two-year Diploma of Narrative Approaches for Aboriginal people (Counselling, Group, and Community work) run through the Regional Centre of Nunkuwarrin Yunti have engaged in an ongoing review of their work to ensure that their ways of working are not re-traumatising for family members who have been through so much grief, loss, and trauma.
Michael White and a team of narrative teachers have been actively involved in and supportive of the interest shown by Aboriginal people in narrative ways of working. One of the legacies of Michael’s long-term engagement with Aboriginal health workers is the application of the skills of narrative approaches within SA Link-Up. I am fortunate to have an ongoing connection with this team both as a teacher and through supervision enabling me to join with team members in their exploration of narrative ways of working.
One development I’d like to outline involves the careful consideration now given to responding to people when they first call Link-Up. A thoughtful process has been established so that as far as possible family members are supported to engage with Link- Up in ways that invite the telling of their story from a range of perspectives. This protocol comes from an understanding that unless care is taken to guide a process of how people are invited to tell their stories, they are at risk of being immersed in experiences of grief, loss, and trauma. SA Link-Up workers provide a structure that supports people to establish a foundation from which they can then speak about the loss of family members.
Here is one example of the process workers engage with that establishes a firm foundation for people who call Link-Up to connect with a multi-storied account of their lives and relationships.
Introductory notes for workers: There are many ways to invite people to tell their story. The following questions are some of many possible questions that help shape the story. It is important that the interview does not only focus on stories of loss, removal, injustice but also enables people to speak about what is important to them, their hopes in finding family, and stories of connection.
- Can you tell us a bit about coming today?
- Why is this important to you?
- Can you share some of your hopes in coming today?
- What does this say about what’s important to you right now?
- Did anything particular happen that encouraged you to come today?
- Is there anything special or significant about this particular time?
- Is there someone else who knows the importance of you coming here today?
- Is there anyone who has encouraged/supported you in your search for family?
- Can you tell me a little about them?
- What are some of the ways they encourage or support you?
- I’m interested to know whether you have thought about sharing this with other family members.
- Have you discussed your plans with them? How is this going for you and for them?
These questions are one example of work being undertaken by SA Link-Up to provide opportunities for multi-voiced accounts of identity to be experienced during the often lengthy and uncertain journey of finding family members. It is hoped that such stories illicit accounts of identity related to loving, longing, survival, hopes, determination, connection, and resolve to reconnect with lost family ones. This work is current and ongoing. It is one example of ways that narrative practice is continuing to move forward in response to the ongoing challenges as an effect of historical injustice in Australia.