Sovereign relationships by Yoko Akama

I am a Japanese woman and I have lived in Australia, on and off for 20 years, most of this time in Melbourne on East Kulin land. I am not Indigenous, Australian or "white," so my entry points to know how to be in a respectful sovereign relationship with Wiradjuri comes from foregrounding my culture and who I am. This is really important in this collaboration. I am not just a designer researcher from "nowhere." When an Elder asks, "whose my mob," which is a common way of greeting, I respond with stories of my family, history of migration and ancestry. I find this invitation very generous. It is surprisingly familiar and resonant with Japanese cultural practices of stepping respectively over thresholds and showing gratitude for being hosted. It's humbling, and at the same time, empowering, which is such a contrast to a feeling of illegitimacy that I've often felt when living and working among dominant "whiteness" that is always taken as the point of reference. Rather than the need to fit in or resist "whiteness," instead, I feel accepted, welcomed, as a Japanese woman, to practice my own sovereignty, in language, rituals and customs of my culture, on shared land with, and alongside Indigenous people, to build a sovereign relationship. . . . This "with" is such a big part of the lived relationship, it's a pre-stated condition for our work together. And it liberates so many things. That's how I'm allowed to be sovereign. I'm invited to be with Wiradjuri sovereignty, with Pete's sovereignty, with Linda's sovereignty. This doesn't exclude, subsume or displace mine. This has enabled me to work across difference, and as importantly, respect boundaries and exclusion where knowledge, practices and places are not open to "entry."

When Aunty Lorraine teaches me weaving as a practice of Wiradjuri sovereignty, I am pleasantly surprised by my nimble fingers that quickly picks up the technique. This is because I have my mother's hands, which are also my grandmother's hands . . . my grandmother's hands that stitched kimono for all her children, passed down to me from my grandmother, to my aunties, and to my mother. So my ancestry is very much alive in me, it is part of my sovereignty and my culture . . . this manifests strongly in such moments of weaving together with Aunty Lorraine, with Linda and other Wiradjuri and Indigenous people who I've encountered during this work. I find weaving such a beautiful way that welcomes all our sovereignties. While I cannot know Wiradjuri sovereignty or live on Wiradjuri Country, I am sensing my own way to respect and connect with it, working alongside one another, visiting a land and place that continues to inspire awe and wonderment.