Torres Strait Islander Mother with two boys in boarding school. Emma discusses how she negotiates with the boarding school about her boys participating in cultural events. During holidays, she makes sure her boys go back to Weipa (where they are from) and spends time with all their family. Emma also talks about the role of extended family and how knowledge about the family totem is maintained.
Transcript Raising Our Little Ones: Emma Schuh – Emma discusses cultural issues
EMMA: My name’s Emma Schuh. I’m a Torres Strait Islander and I’ve got two boys that are attending Marist College in Brisbane. My oldest child is sixteen and my youngest is fourteen … They’ve been at boarding school for the whole of their high school. We live in Weipa.
TITLE: Importance of staying connected to culture
EMMA: It is important and, I suppose, it’s making sure that I keep a constant communication with them, allowing them or negotiating with the school that they’re to participate in our cultural activities – whether it’s NAIDOC or Mabo Day. [I] talk to the kids all the time – especially about extended families, about our cultural beliefs, our totems. Because they’re down in Brisbane and away from the Torres Straits – even from the family up in Weipa – it’s really important that they know where they come from, what we believe in, what do we hold precious. When they come up for holidays, it’s going to see family, it’s making that time that we spend with [family], whether it’s the uncles or the aunts, going to barbeques where all the family is, making sure we go back up to Weipa and see the grandparents.
TITLE: Role of the Torres Strait extended family
EMMA: It’s a big role, especially the uncles – the big uncles – and the aunties. Even though I am the ultimate boss of my kids … a lot of discipline, a lot of straightening, is from the uncles and the aunties – especially the uncles. And, being in a family with just girls, my cousins – my male cousins – play that role, the uncle role.
My kids have grown up that the uncles are very well respected, especially because I’ve got two boys. So what they say goes, basically. Just talking to them. If it’s like backchat and stuff like that, just saying how it (being disrespectful) doesn’t fit within how you were brought up. Living in Weipa, away from the Torres Strait, my mother’s a Torres Strait Islander [and] she was very strict and she was making sure us girls maintained our culture even though we didn’t live up there and, I suppose, that has been passed down to our kids. I’ve got two sisters in our family and, even though we didn’t live up there, we had to tow the line in our culture and be really respectful of our counselling. I’ve got four nieces and three nephews.
INTERVIEWER: What’s your role with them?
EMMA: I’m the big aunty. I’m the oldest in the family.
INTERVIEWER: So, what do you need to do? What do you sister’s expect you to do?
EMMA: Well, because they’re a lot younger, and if they muck up or anything like this, it’s “We’re going to take you to Aunty Emma” or whatever like that. They’re not frightened, because I let them get away with it anyway, but I play a big role in their upbringing. And, especially because my mum’s passed now, that sort of matriarch person’s not there anymore. And I wouldn’t say that I’m that person, but for my younger sisters, or my sisters who are younger than me, and their children – I’m top dog at the moment.
EMMA: We knew what our totems were forever. I can’t remember a time when my mum actually sat down and said “Okay, these are the totems of our tribe.” We know what they are … One of our totems is the gecko, so we have, whether it’s gecko chimes or picture or whatever around the house. The kids know what they are. Because our mum’s passed, if we hear a gecko we know that she’s still around.
We’ve got the Torres Strait pigeon, it’s also our totem. Each tribe has got various totems, but out of those totems you will know that there’s only a couple that relate to you, and there the ones you would say you relate to most. And the kids know it, but it’s a part of your upbringing. It’s not something you sit down and teach, it’s just a way of life. And I’ve had a big discussion with another conference when we were talking, especially [about] education … getting culture back into the schools and getting them to teach it. And I don’t believe culture is taught in schools. You can’t, because each culture’s different, each family would value certain aspects of culture differently or prioritise them differently. I wasn’t taught culture in school, and I don’t expect anyone to teach culture. They can respect culture and acknowledge it, but can’t teach it unless you’re from there. The teaching of culture is at home.
INTERVIEWER: At home with the family?