• Mother and daughter, Eva Jo Edwards and her daughter Alkira. (Ali MC)
Alkira Edwards, daughter of a member of the Stolen Generations, speaks openly about building a loving and affectionate relationship with her mother.
By
Ali MC

25 May 2018 - 4:02 PM  UPDATED 25 May 2018 - 5:04 PM

"Why would it affect us? It’s pretty obvious."

24-year-old Alkira Edwards answers my first question somewhat sardonically, but with good reason.

I've asked her why her mum's removal as part of the Stolen Generations would affect her.

The answer is both simple, yet deeply complex at the same time.

"Mum didn’t have anyone to guide her,” she explains.

"She was never affectionate. That affects you as a child. The first few years of your life, affection is important thing. She never had that. I’m 24 and it’s only now that Mum can tell me that she loves me and hug me."

The impact of intergenerational trauma of the Stolen Generations is only just being recognised by the broader community, but within Aboriginal families, these effects have been well-known for years.

A major impact is that of love and affection. In previous interviews by NITV, members of the Stolen Generations repeatedly state that the lack of affection shown by foster parents and in institutions had long lasting ramifications, most notably, a lack of capacity to show outward displays of affection to their own children.

Read Eva Jo's story here:
Aunty Eva Jo Edwards: Story of a Stolen Generations Survivor
Eva Jo Edwards was taken from her family at age five, and spent her next 13 years in institutions. Today, she is the loving matriarch of a big family who are all connected to their culture and community.

This is no fault of the mother or father; after all, they were removed from their natural families and often raised in a sterile, in some cases aggressive and assimilatory, environments without love or affection.

It is obvious, then as Alkira points out, that this lack of warmth would be transferred onto their own children; after all, love, affection, care and intimacy are behaviours we learn from family members, and when a child is removed from that cocoon, so too the capacity to learn those traits.

"This should be a natural thing, but we missed out on this natural affection.” says Alkira.

"We never understood as kids, but when you become an adult you start to realise this."

Another impact —also known to Aboriginal families for years— is the intergenerational removals.

Put simply, once one child has been removed, the ongoing ramifications can be passed down to subsequent generations.

Such impacts are not limited simply to a lack of love and affection, but can manifest in depression and anxiety, loss of language and culture, intergenerational poverty, and the ongoing current child removals that are so prevalent in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities today.

Alkira speaks frankly about the intergenerational impacts of removal on her family, only recently finding out that her grandmother had also been removed and placed in an institution.

"My grandmother died because she became unhealthy.

"She was a positive, strong independent woman who had her kids taken from her, and turned to alcohol. Her bad health was because of how she was treated, how she had her kids taken from you and told you would never see them again. So she died young due to poor health, but she had to numb herself."

Alkira’s mother Eva Jo Edwards was also told lies about the reasons for her removal.

"They were told growing up that their mums didn’t want them; that they had given them up, when this was not true."

"They were told growing up that their mums didn’t want them; that they had given them up, when this was not true. But that’s what kids [of the Stolen Generations] were told."

Fortunately for Alkira, her mother Eva Jo was able to break this aspect of the cycle of intergenerational trauma, and neither herself nor her five brothers were removed as children.

I ask how her mum had managed to do this, when the odds were stacked against her.

"Mum's just strong. We are lucky enough that mum doesn’t have any addictions. She was never going to let us go. She was determined to have her kids stay with her."

Not only was Alkira's mum determined not to let her kids go, she was also determined to immerse them in the culture that she herself was unable to experience growing up in an institution.

"Because mum, when she did leave the homes —she always knew something was different due to her dark skin— but as soon as she was able to find out that she was Aboriginal she was really passionate about teaching us Aboriginal culture.

"So we grew up learning dance, Aboriginal sports, really involved with our schools in regards to celebrating NAIDOC Week and Aboriginal flag raising.

"She was like, ‘I’m not letting my kids not grow up with feeling like they did miss out’ like she did."

Yet growing up as an Aboriginal person has not been easy for Alkira, especially coming from a proud and strong family.

"I had a lot of racism directed towards me at primary and high school. To the point that I didn’t want to be black, because it was different.

"Our family was the only Aboriginal family at the school. As a kid I hated being a different skin colour.

"But one thing we were taught was to talk about important Aboriginal people, like Cathy Freeman and Archie Roach.

"So in school I would always perform poems by Aboriginal artists and talk about Aboriginal legends, just so mum was like, if people are going to be racist show them that there are Aboriginal legends."

"In school I would always perform poems by Aboriginal artists and talk about Aboriginal legends, just so mum was like, if people are going to be racist show them that there are Aboriginal legends."

In fact, Alkira's mother would often show her proactive, positive side in dealing with behaviour, including giving a talk to the school about her experiences as part of the Stolen Generations.

Alkira relates a story whereby students from Year 10 and upwards had to watch the film Rabbit Proof Fence, and there was a clash between the Aboriginal students and the white students, with one white student calling out racist remarks.

"Mum actually ended up coming down to the school and did a talk about the Stolen Generations.

"I have run into kids from school recently —as adults— and some have become social workers and the like, and now they are affected by Mums talk back in the school days. It opened their eyes to racism and responded to it, to try and change things."

As an adult, Alkira now works in a career that assists people facing the same challenges that her family have, and is able to approach her work with a certain innate expertise given her direct experience.

"I’ve always worked in the community sector, with young kids in care, and now working with Stolen Generations.

"Definitely Mum's experience and what mum has taught me has absolutely affected and shaped what career I’m heading into.

"From 18 leaving school, I’ve always wanted to be a helper, someone who wants to bring a positive spin on people’s lives, make people’s lives a little bit easier and better."

Yet Alkira is quick to note the ongoing pain and trauma that is continually felt by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families today, with the ongoing high rate of removals of children.

"Two years ago on Sorry Day I was working in residential care, in the group homes, and had to deal with a kid [who was being taken] to a new foster home.

"And it was only then when I had some strong understanding of how my mum would have felt.

"It was the night before Sorry Day, and it made me think about how mum would have felt. I had to sit with this young girl and all she wanted to do was to go back to her family.

"The girl was distraught, and I thought ‘my mum went through this daily.’

"She was moved and pushed around and it made me realise what my mum went through, and why she wasn’t affectionate towards us.

"I went home and cuddled her and told her I loved her."

"I went home and cuddled her and told her I loved her."

Looking to the future, Alkira realises how fortunate she is to have her whole family around to support her, in particular when she decides to have her own children.

"It’s a really natural thing for us to tell each other we love each other in our family, that family bond is really natural. Once I become a parent that should be really natural, as I’m aware of it."

Yet Alkira still understands that there are many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children around the country who face the difficulties of dealing with inter-generational trauma from their parent's removal.

To kids growing up in this same situation, she says,

"If I met myself as a 15-year-old I would tell myself ‘Mum loves you even though she doesn’t show it.’

"Just because then I wouldn’t have been so hard on her. I’m a lot more understanding now."

National Sorry Day (26 May) acknowledges and recognises members of the Stolen Generations. For more information, visit Reconciliation Australia.  

For anyone needing support on any of the topics raised in this article, reach out to NACCHO member servicesHeadspace: Yarn Safe and the Healing Foundation.

 

Ali MC (Alister McKeich) is a writer, photographer and legal professional who holds a Masters in Human Rights Law. His work documents global human rights issues, and he has had the privilege of working with a number of Aboriginal communities here and internationally. He currently works at the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service. Follow @alimcphotos