Neil Morris, Yorta Yorta
What is your name and who is your mob/ tribe?
Neil Morris. I was raised in Mooroopna two hours north of Kulin Nations land (Melbourne). I am incredibly blessed to have been born and raised on lands that I have ancestry to, lands directly belonging to Kaielatheban clan area on Yorta Yorta country by Kaiela (Goulburn River in colonial language).
How do you define ‘warrior’?
It can be the person that dedicates their life to a particular cause, the person that simply continues to live in spite of severe pain and oppression, the traumatised that chooses to share their story, the single mothers that raise kids on their own in the face of great adversities. I feel our people are all warriors in some form for choosing to live in a country which has systematically attempted to eradicate our people and still implements a broad range of measures that keep us people entrenched in disadvantage or veered into assimilation. For me, being a warrior is enabling my spiritual blessings of my upbringing and ancestral heritage to the Yorta Yorta lands flow through me in the most powerful ways. This manifests in various ways, standing amidst thousands at protests, providing a smoking ceremony, continuing to speak language and passing on ancestral spirit through that. Also inspiring others to do the same or developing community programs which look at a broader way of incorporating indigeneity into western society as a non-negotiable component of it. In broader terms, it essentially means to stand infused with the integrity that culture bestows upon us and channelling that to enable us to provide whatever is the most fitting way that we can ensure the continuation of our culture to offer positive things to this land we live upon.
How are you involved in Aboriginal resistance?
By default my life itself is a form of resistance, being devout to my culture by following the law of the dreaming. I am inherently in a resistant state to many oppressive systems, set up in ways to distract and draw people away from a spiritual focused life. I am also involved in resistance through standing for first nation causes that are related to decolonising this land. Whether that be through campaigns related to preventative approaches against the ongoing assimilationist and genocidal systems of this society by campaigning to keeping Aboriginal people living on their traditional lands, lobbying against the environmental destruction of indigenous lands through extractive industry or grassroots community, building activities and awareness raising through a broad range of platforms.
Why did you get involved in the resistance?
The need for resistance to the overwhelming tide of colonial and subsequently industrialised consumer driven capitalistic society struck me in a way I was cognizant of when I was in my mid-teens. I began to recognise so many injustices around me daily and being very disturbed by it. Since then my life has represented one form or another of resistance as I have actively attempted to cultivate a life that does not embrace modern capitalist societal constructs. For a long time perhaps I didn’t feel that I could have an impact with resistance. But in fact, I feel that what gave me faith, something that could affect people was actually through sharing cultural activity with people which is something that I wasn’t exposed to up until the past few years. Sharing cultural activity with people not necessarily whom would seem the most receptive of it. Sharing the deep sincerity of our culture, showing people that our culture is underpinned with responsibility.
The core reason I feel I am now involved in activism is driven by the want to enable our culture to flourish, to be an example of that; to show people that it is our culture which provides our impetus to maintain ways of being upon our sacred lands are culturally rooted.
I want platforms of change to be left by current generations to inspire our future generations coming through, and beyond that, to display to the broader society living within our traditional lands that we possess something very beautiful that is not about us reverse colonising and dictating, it’s not a want for power or any other colonial constructs. I want to represent to people that what we have is a very spiritual sacred thing that is a blessing to society as a broader construct upon these lands. The best way I can do this is be an example, and that is what I attempt to do daily. It just so happens that this is in resistance to the popular paradigms that have come to be core paradigms in the world upon our lands and so many other indigenous lands. In essence we are actually not the resistors, we are harmonisers, focusing on bringing harmony back to the world more prominently.
What is decolonization to you?
It is multi-layered. It’s learning ones Indigenous language. It’s reconnecting with lands and being familiar with the language ones land speaks. It’s performing ceremony inspired by our lands and ancestors. It’s not conforming to the pseudo ceremony of western lifestyles. It’s acknowledging that there are many constructs that have been formed within this society that are illusory and must be challenged and countered. It is ultimately being mindful that an attitude of “if you can’t beat them join them” is not decolonising but assimilating.. I decolonize through connection on a daily basis by honouring creation spirits, totems and ancestors and the impact they have on us. I attempt to build relationships with people that are formed with an appreciation for the sacred aspects of life upon this land through ceremonial activity on country, writing of poetry, attending protests, displaying my connection through wearing my cultural adornments such as ochre, feathers and other resources of land or simply by having a poignant transformational conversation. Our ability to implement decolonising practices is with us, through all places we traverse
Why is it important for Aboriginal people to stand up for the causes you stand for?
For the continuation of culture and culturally appropriate lifestyles. With the world plummeting at a rapid rate with catastrophes of varying kinds, it is clear that ways which are embedded in our culture are actually ways which can provide means that will be crucial to any shift towards a society that will enable a future of being able to appreciate and share in the beautiful world we live in without it being completely destroyed and left in a state of disrepair.
What do you see as the biggest issues your people face today?
Ensuring we do not assimilate into western society to the point that we can longer have enough strong and beautiful warriors to keep our culture surviving into the future. We have a moral obligation to uphold our culture whilst we still have opportunity to, to actively decolonise our lives in ways that will make it much easier for future generations to continue to do so after us. The responsibility sits largely with our current generations.
What have you learnt from your old people that you would like to share with others?
The main things I have learnt from my old people are respect for all living beings, to hold all life in reverence. Also those intangibly expressed wisdoms that are not expressed through words, the very way an elder connects to country, the gift that is provided in transferring on cultural lore cannot often be expressed. But it has taught me to be graceful in a way to allow country, ancestors and spirit to breathe through me so that I may be a vessel to bring those things to the present, no matter where I walk upon these lands or any lands across the globe.
What do you see for the future of your people and Indigenous people globally?
I see indigenous people playing a critical role in steering humankind to a place where resistance is less necessary, people can only ignore the right ways for so long. The cultural way will always speak strong, and its making its voice heard. We as a whole cannot continue to ignore this. If indigenous ways are implemented as a highly valued component of any society our culture and ways of all indigenous peoples globally can be the answer to the profuse list of ills in the world today.
Photo credit: Will Beale