Sovereign relationships by Linda Elliott

I'm not Wiradjuri, I'm not Aboriginal but I've always lived on Wiradjuri country. . . I started learning Wiradjuri language and then did the Graduate Certificate in Wiradjuri heritage culture and language and learning key, deep, Wiradjuri concepts. Coming out of that Graduate Certificate, I was taught to see myself as a citizen of Wiradjuri Country. When you see yourself this way, it means everything is related to everyone else . . . so how do I relate to this? For me, it is fundamentally about recognizing that my sovereignty is tied to my identity, that I am also part of a bigger thing, looking outwards and how I relate to everything. So my place in this is that I'm on a journey with people. It's not about me as an individual, it's about the journey we're going on together. . . Part of the journey of learning the language was a pathway to understanding Wiradjuri culture and sovereignty . . . I only know and touch on just a little bit, but it's also respecting that . . . you don't know but you can still respect something.

When you first come in and you're nervous and you're not sure how this works, and it took a long time for me to realize. . . there's a Wiradjuri word called Yindyimarra—go gently with respect, go slowly—and yarning is very much part of that. When you're sitting in a weaving circle, you can come into that circle, it's a safe place, you know you're not going to be judged, everybody is welcomed, everybody is helped, they're empowered, encouraged to be themselves. That circle is actually stronger with everybody in it, regardless of where they are. That's where the yarning comes in. It's through talking, engaging with each other, that relationship is kept and maintained and built upon.

From a settler's point of view, you're so afraid of doing something wrong, you get bogged down in that fear. One of the Elders said, "what's worse is if you do nothing." You're so fearful of doing something that you do nothing. They [Elders] are your teachers, they will teach you and guide you along the way. And I make mistakes, but the act of forgiveness is always there. People are very generous with their knowledge and patience. . . . When I first started participating in things with other people, Aunty Lorraine would say, "you're not working for us, you're working with us." It's about what you do together. This gives you clues to how I behave, this is my role, this is how I am taught to have my own identity and also accept my sovereign place on Wiradjuri Country. We are in a relationship together, and that sovereign relationship means it's ok to be a sovereign person in that relationship. . . . I know and I can be secure in my relationships with other people because I know my identity, I know my sovereignty, and how I fit in the Wiradjuri world. . . . It's a "we." It's stronger because of that. It's actually about empowerment, about embracing and its actually building everybody up—so it is a "we." We have to live together. It's not about blaming or the deficit model. . . . It's about working together for common outcomes and common goals.