Debbi is a medical anthropologist, writer and activist. She is the founder of the Health Anthropology Network (www.healthanth.com.au), and is the team anthropologist for Possible Dreams International, an NGO working on emergency health and long term empowerment programs for AIDS effected communities in Swaziland (www.possibledreamsinternational.org). She is on the board of pay-as-you feel restaurant and social movement NGO Lentil as Anything (www.lentilasanything.com).
Debbi taught in the foundation program at Wilto Yerlo, the Aboriginal and Islander (including the Torres Strait) support unit at the University of Adelaide, for four years in the late 1990s/early 2000s, and has developed and taught first nations content in many of the courses she has lectured in at various Australian universities.
“One of the things that I found intensely confronting when teaching in the foundation program was that we were doing our best to give first nations students the tools they needed to do well in the university system, and yet when we were successful in doing this, we facilitated students taking on study in an institution that abused their sense of self on an almost daily basis. I’m an academic, and full-on nerd, and I love university environments, but Australian universities, like any settler colonial institution, can be deeply injurious places for any non-mainstream students, and especially so for Aboriginal Australians. Aboriginal students have to sit through lectures where the people at the front of the lecture hall say things regularly like “Aborigines … they” in the same breath as “Australians … we”. To rub salt into the would, Aboriginal students are often expected to reproduce this damaging, racist discourse in essays and exams to be regarded as “good enough” to graduate. It is an added burden than non-Indigenous students don’t have to face in their university studies.”
Debbi describes her spirituality as ‘new age zen pagan’, and is deeply informed by first nations spiritual paradigms.
“I am incredibly excited by the connections that people from first nations cultures around the planet are making with each other, and the enormous generosity with which they are sharing their insights and teachings to non-Indigenous people who are willing to be open and listen. The wisdom of the Elders has always been crucial to our survival, and the imperative has rarely been stronger than now.
The intrinsic, applied understandings of interconnectedness that are inseparable from Indigenous spirituality resonate profoundly with the way I try to live my life. The more deeply I understand first nation spirituality, the closer I feel I get to having a practical framework for living a sustainable, joyful, ethical life.”
Debbi is raising a mixed-background child, and has turned to Aboriginal and non-indigenous friends who are multi-background themselves, or who are raising multi-background children for advice and support in her parenting.
“As parents, we all do the best we can with the resources we’ve got available to raise our kids to be the kind of human beings we want to see in the world: I’m aiming for content, healthy and kind. Being an Anglo parent of a brown-skinned child brings particular things to your awareness. I found Harry O’Brien’s commentary on casual or everyday racism, in the light of Eddie McGuire’s faux pas about Adam Goodes (see: http://www.smh.com.au/national/are-you-a-casual-racist-20130530-2ndyy.html) to be very relevant to the day-to-day world of my family. As an activist, I’m interested in confronting those attitudes in my society. As a parent, I’m interested in supporting my son to develop a sense of self that allows him to understand that it’s racist people who have the problem and are the problem, not him. I want to be able to support any kids, of any colour, to grow up proud and strong in the skin they’re in.”
Debbi was excited and honoured to be invited to be a Lateral Love ambassador.
“I have followed the work of Uncle Brian and Nicola as the Lateral Love project has come into being, and am excited by the positive articulation offered by Lateral Love. Lateral violence creates such deeply damaging injuries, and some parts of those injuries can only be healed by fully embracing and accepting ourselves and others who we see as being like us. Loving the Other is one challenge; Loving the Self is as big a challenge, and every bit as much an intrinsic part of any healing process.”