When Women Speak: Ambelin Kwaymullina

Posted on 17 November 2017 Friday


I grew up in quiet, “reverent” Catholic churches where you could her a pin drop during sermons and talking was done in whispers. All singing in these churches was limited to the one or two stanzas of the song and all responses where scripted by the order of the Mass. As an adult, I ventured into a Black Catholic church in Indiana. Think of it as Southern Baptists meets Roman Catholics. It flipped the script! And, it was loud. I felt such a difference, such a sense of belonging in this church that I switched my membership. It was good to have both of these options. They taught me of the cultural and personal connections we have to expressing our faith.

We’re often critical of people who speak too loudly, but culture plays a key role in determining what’s an appropriate volume. Some cultures have loud bursts of joy, while others bring it softly. Some cultures have to be loud just to be heard. Ambelin Kwaymullina is speaking out loud from Australia today. I hope you can hear her.

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Maya Gonzalez: What Do I Speak Out? True Power Rises
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Neesha Meminger: I Want to Talk About Power

On Being Loud and Hopeful

thumbnail_photo1We – the Native/First Nations (N/FN) and Women of Colour (WOC) of children’s literature – are loud. I think that there are many who would say we are too loud, and they will say this even when we speak in soft tones and soothing words. We are accused of shouting even when we are pleading. So we may as well shout. The progress of change is not slow because our voices are silent. It is slow because we are being ignored. We did not create, nor do we benefit from, the structures, behaviours and attitudes that consistently privilege the voices of White people over those of Indigenous peoples and Peoples of Colour (and the voices of non-Indigenous peoples over Indigenous peoples). And in the end, at least in part, it is going to take the privileged to dismantle privilege.

“And I make connections with my White allies too – and by ally, I mean those who never allow an act of privilege to pass without challenge, whether that act is located in themselves, in other people, or at a structural level.”

Where does that leave me as a Palyku woman? I have three lessons I carry with me. The first comes from my experience, which tells me I am not alone. I walk with my Ancestors; with my people; and with my homeland. I walk with other N/FN peoples from across the globe. I make connections with the Peoples of Colour who inhabit Indigenous territories. And I make connections with my White allies too – and by ally, I mean those who never allow an act of privilege to pass without challenge, whether that act is located in themselves, in other people, or at a structural level.

The second lesson comes from the young for whom I write, and it is that I must be defined by what I am fighting for, not what I am fighting against. My north star is a world that doesn’t exist, the one where all voices are heard equally and all voices have an equal opportunity to be heard. And so I must seek balance in all I do. This means my time is often better spent empowering the marginalised to tell their stories than it is in fighting yet another battle against a yet another ignorant voice or institution.

“The hope lies where it has always been…”

The final lesson comes my mother, and it is the importance of including hope in every story. This is a particular challenge for me at the moment as I am finishing the edits on a YA book about sexualized violence against Indigenous girls. It is hard to locate hope in such a tale. And yet I know that despite the relentless brutalities to which they were subjected, generations of N/FN women held onto their hope. I know that they defied their oppressors with the only choice they had left: to not be diminished by their experience. And so I have my answer. The hope is not in the world which allows N/FN women and girls to be brutalised on a global scale of catastrophe. The hope is not in systems of (so-called) justice that have largely failed us. The hope lies where it has always been – in the hearts and minds and spirits of N/FN women and girls.

“I hope that our voices are the trumpet blasts that herald all that is to come, and the bells that toll the death knell of every injustice that has been.

This leads me back to where I began, with the strength of the voices of N/FN women and WOC. Yes, we are loud – and I hope that we will only grow louder with every attempt to shame and scare us into silence. I hope that our voices are the trumpet blasts that herald all that is to come, and the bells that toll the death knell of every injustice that has been. Perhaps, then, this is what it comes down to for us, and for our White allies as well: fight the past. Embody the future. Change the world.

Ambelin Kwaymullina is an Aboriginal writer, illustrator and law academic who comes from the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. She is the author/illustrator of multiple award winning picture books as well as of a dystopian series for Young Adults (The Tribe series). Her next YA novel, written with her brother Ezekiel Kwaymullina, will be published in Australia by Allen & Unwin in 2018.

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Posted in: Me Being Me