I have to be totally honest and admit that I am not a huge fan of action movies or martial arts. However, like most other kids growing up in 70s and early 80s, I watched the US series, Kung Fu, starring David Carradine.
So, when I was approached by celebrity promoter Max Markson and told the Hollywood action star and martial art legend Steven Seagal was coming to Australia and wanted to connect with Aboriginal Elders for a cultural and spiritual experience, I was more than happy to help facilitate a meeting.
However, there was one burning question that I did have for Max. It’s something I often wondered. Is Steven Seagal a First Nations person?
I soon discovered Mr Seagal claims connections. During our interview, he revealed he has “family roots” in two of the three main tribes in the Mohawk nation in the US state of Michigan where he was born.
Arriving on our shores for the first time last week for speaking engagements in Sydney and Melbourne, Mr Seagal’s special gathering was organised by the Tribal Warrior Aboriginal Corporation which is based in the heart of the inner Sydney suburb of Redfern.
Tribal Warrior is an organisation dedicated to providing employment and training opportunities for Aboriginal people and it also runs mentoring programs for Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth, as well as cultural experiences for anyone wanting to learn more about Indigenous culture.
My cameraman, Tyrone Pynor, and I set up early for the community meeting and waited patiently for the star of over 20 movies – including the classic “Under Siege” – to arrive. Then I began to feel slightly nervous.
I had read stories about interviews with the 66-years-old star. Hosts from Sydney radio station, Triple M, described their interview with him as “scary” and “odd”. Apparently, Mr Seagal had refused to hold his own microphone and moments into the interview signalled a young female member of his entourage to scratch his right shoulder.
An air of excitement was building and an eager crowd gathered in the Tribal Warrior offices waiting for Mr Seagal's arrival. I looked to my right and could see the six-foot-four star entering the office, greeting every single person in the room as he entered.
After an address by Tribal Warrior Head Mentor Jacob Saunders, in which he discussed life on The Block, the importance of Elders and an account of his younger brother’s altercation with police on the streets of Kings Cross in 2012, Mr Seagal was presented with a traditional firestick and other small gifts.
Clearly moved by Jacob’s story, Mr Seagal told the gathering he felt inspired by the efforts of Jacob and others to work with Indigenous youth.
“Their commitment to helping the youth not lose their culture, their identity and helping them know that there’s someone loving them, supporting them I think is the key to the culture living on forever.” he said.
Everyone in the Tribal Warrior office then converged for a photo with Mr Seagal before he headed off to his next stop - a meeting with Aboriginal Ranger Dean Kelly at La Perouse. This was to be a private affair for Mr Seagal, who wanted a spiritual experience and to hear stories of the local area.
In our interview, the Hollywood star, Aikido master, musician and international diplomat was quietly spoken and more than happy to answer my questions. He told me he felt a strong connection with Aboriginal people and that this meeting was a long time coming.
“First Nations people are the first people and may be the first people in the world and no people … have the right to take Indigenous rights away,” he said. “They don’t have the right to take land, culture, possessions, traditions. They not only have no right to take it, or overwrite it, or influence it in a way that is overpowering their own tradition.
“We have to go by working with everyone traditionally and going along with having people skills, and working with current legislation, sometimes to abolish, sometimes to override it sometimes to overcome it, whatever it takes to take what’s rightfully ours back.”