Social Determinants of Indigenous Health

Coordinating Holistic Policy & Services to Increase Life Expectancy


William Brian Butler, Congress Director

National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples

28th March 2012

On the 19th March 2012 after extensive discussions with Aboriginal and Islander Elders across this vast land, we launched the decade of Lateral Love and Spirit of Care for all Mankind 2012 – 2022 Campaign

So what is ‘Lateral violence?

Do you know what Lateral violence is and how it affects you and your family?

How about the ways in which it plays out in the workforce and spills over into service delivery and duty of care for our Aboriginal and Islander peoples?

Let us not kid ourselves the type of violence I am talking about is complex. If we truly want to get to the root of the problem and make all future attempts result in positive change we must do the hard yards with this one. Notwithstanding the pain and anguish we will all be forced to confront along the way, but whilst we all contemplate how difficult this is really going to be think about this…Do our children and the future generations that we will leave behind, do they not deserve to be given the cultural knowledge, strength and support through unity to ensure their lives are fulfilling and meaningful? We have fought so hard to achieve our current position and it is each and every one of ours responsibility as leaders to stand up in solidarity and support for one another to get this right once and for all!

Understanding ‘Lateral violence’ requires us to have the ability to unpack multiple layers of trauma to discover the true meaning that lies beneath all the lies and misconceptions, we then need to find the strength and perseverance to continue to do so again and again, just so we can remain true to ourselves as to what we must achieve. This is the only way to understand the differing levels of complexity, of the impacts, and of the multiple effects of the limitless number of manifestations of ‘Lateral violence’ for each individual both within our homes, our Communities and our work places.

But it does not stop there, once we have mastered this mammoth task, we will again require a ridiculous amount of strength and courage to analyse our own individual behaviors, in an honest confronting way. A no-holds-barred reality check, a look in the mirror of truth to see the parts we have each played in perpetuating and enabling Lateral violence. The simple fact is that we have all been subjected to this type of violence throughout our lifetime and we are all guilty of inflicting it upon another at some point in our development. The manifestations of ‘Lateral violence’ are occurring every single day, all around us, and unfortunately even by us, treating our own with the same contempt we experience AND MANY DON’T EVEN KNOW IT.

Every single human being must talk about and learn the true meaning of Lateral violence. By ‘true meaning’ I would like to share the words of Jim Morrison as he describes with perfection the events and their effects that took place which allowed for the embedding of this Lateral violence into our collective psyche as a colonized nation;

‘Irrespective of whether they are Aboriginal people from Australia, New Zealand, Canada or the United States, colonized people suffer a similar sequence of intergenerational trauma that separates their needs from others’.

1.    The first generation of colonisation Aboriginal men and boys were killed, imprisoned, enslaved, driven away and deprived of the ability to provide for their families. Women became single parents and many children were conceived through rape and forced prostitution.

2.    The second generation of colonisation Aboriginal people were rounded up and sent to missions and reserves where they were further removed from being able to obtain work, balanced diets, housing, sanitation, health care and education. This is the stage that the misuse of alcohol and drugs became embedded as a mechanism for coping with grief and the profound loss of dignity.

3.    In the third generation of colonisation, Aboriginal children were removed from their fractured families and placed into non-indigenous care environments where they suffered the horrors of forced inferiority, deprivation and abuse, documented for all to read in the Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal Children from their Families in April 1997. The majority of these children became parents without exposure to parenting and therefore the opportunity to develop parenting skills.

These effects of multiple Transgenerational traumas are suffered by parents and other family members, passed on, transferred to the next generations.

Aboriginal people in Australia have been exposed not to three, but seven generations of compounding bad laws, a racially prejudiced Federal constitution and institutional and social racism. This has reinforced a lack of faith in working with the Government and non-government services or any hope for the future.

The profound damage to Aboriginality cannot and will not be fixed in anything less than the time it took to inflict it’ Morrison is the Aboriginal co-chair of the National Stolen Generations Alliance and the Aboriginal co-convener of the Bringing Them Home Committee WA. hhtp://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/opinion/post/-/blog/theburningissue/post/1889/

The Transgenerational trauma that Jim so clearly defines is the very foundation of Lateral violence. It is the powerful negative driving force that is embedded within our collective Aboriginal & Islander psyche from the invasion in 1788, and this evil has continued to manifest its toxic poison, festering inside each and every one of us right up until the current day. The common thread binding together the traumatic generations for all Aboriginal and Islander people is SURVIVAL, but survival brings with it a host of callous, harsh and ridged resiliencies that were necessary for us to survive.

The legal definition of Lateral violence as found via USLegal is: Lateral violence happens when people who are both victims of a situation of dominance, in fact turn on each other rather than confront the system that oppresses them both. Lateral violence occurs when oppressed groups/individuals internalize feelings such as anger and rage, and manifest their feelings through behaviors such as gossip, jealousy, putdowns and blaming.

Paul Memmott’s in Community Based Strategies for Combating Indigenous Violence 2001 describes it as: ‘unresolved grief that is associated with multiple layers of trauma spanning many generations. Some of these ‘layers of trauma’ include: colonial aggression; genocide; racism; alienation from tribal lands; breakdown of social structure; loss of spirituality and languages; removal of rights and responsibilities; labor exploitation; and large-scale removal of Aboriginal children from their families (‘stolen generations’). These and other factors have contributed to the erosion of social structures and traditional values, and a range of social problems in current Aboriginal communities’ (Memmott et al. 2001).

What we need to understand in 2012 is this, our young people are still caught in this perpetual cycle of survival and it is choking them, and unfortunately for many in the literal sense of the word. We as a collective culture need to acknowledge these Transgenerational traumas and realise the way they have caused us to perpetrate Lateral violence onto one another. ‘Lateral violence is the product of colonisation, it amounts to the colonized colonizing one another, a situation of the oppressed oppressing each other. When you are at the bottom of the social heap and cannot strike out ‘vertically’ (i.e. at those above you) frustration erupts and is instead directed at your peers by your side’ Calvin Helin

Lateral violence, or should I say the manifestations of Lateral violence are the things most of us can identify with easily, but the reality of how these behaviors actually came about eludes many, regardless of status, education or community standing.

The frequent manifestations of lateral violence include:

• nonverbal innuendo (raising eyebrows, face-making), • bullying, • verbal affront (overt/covert, snide remarks, lack of openness, abrupt responses, gossiping), • shaming, • undermining activities (turning away, not being available, social exclusion), • withholding information, • sabotage (deliberately setting up a negative situation), • infighting (bickering, family feuds), • scapegoating, • backstabbing (complaining to peers and not confronting the individual), • failure to respect privacy, • broken confidences, • organisational conflict, • physical violence.

In a moving email received from Cheri Yavu Kama Harathunian proud Kabi Kabi, Gurang Gurang, Terabalang Bunda Elder, her description of Lateral violence struck a chord for me in an all resonating way. Cheri states that;

‘Lateral violence is more than behaviors such as gossip, jealousy, putdowns and blaming, resentment, spite, envy, suspicion, distrust, protectiveness, bitterness, hatred, antipathy, racial superiority, taking on of another cultural expression – the Americanisation of Aboriginal youth – because of self-shame, offence, umbrage, anger, acrimony, animosity, hostility, enmity, and other negative expressions is the fact that these expressions often have their basis in oral histories, those negative stories of our past that are handed down to us and that are projected into our present living’,

Cheri also goes on to talk about the types of violence we understand a lot more about and the way that Lateral violence is often ignored because of this…‎

‘the strategies that are making a difference with regards to ‘domestic violence; personal violence; community violence and corporate violence have very little if any impact upon ‘lateral violence’. Often, the symptoms are or can be considered to be expressed as one of the above. But the motivators for lateral violence are embedded deeper in the psyche of Aboriginal and Islander peoples than behavior or cognition. What is missed is the spiritual scars that motivate the cognitive systems to the connection that is demonstrated in the behavioral outcome.’

Every behavior and situation is tarnished by Lateral violence, we need to understand this.

What to do about the situation? Well we have started the process by calling for learning circles/yarning circles to be developed within communities, families and networking groups, creating these from the absolute grassroots level and continuing them through to all levels of society. Come together as a group and openly discuss the realities happening for each and every one of you. Then with an open mind embrace the concept of Lateral violence and how this has shaped the world as we know it in this space and time, then move towards discussions about what we can do to improve our situation by eliminating this negative practice through education and understanding.

Resources are light on the ground, primarily because society has brushed this issue of Lateral violence under the carpet for 200 years plus in this country, nobody has written about the damage that is done to families right throughout the Nation, and because of this, Lateral violence has become the norm and generations have grown up with this as a normal part of life. So much so that the people who are doing the most damage to each other are mostly unaware of the causes and the long term repercussions of their actions. We have dysfunctional families unable to cope with or find the answers to deal with the destructive nature of this type of violence.

We only have to look at the lack of respect for many Elders within the Aged Care arena, I am certain that every single Elders abuse case that I know of, is derived directly from unchecked Transgenerational Lateral violence. We need to encourage greater respect for Elders by the elimination of this negative practice and to get there we are all going to have to participate in some very open, confronting and frank discussions. Every single individual in our society has a role to play. Lateral violence is very personal and we need to start getting personal in stamping out Lateral violence.

On the 23rd February, exactly one month in from the inception of this Campaign, I had the pleasure of spending some time with Dr Chintamani Yogi from Nepal. Dr. Yogi is the founding principal of Hindu Vidyapeeth Schools, which is working to promote value-based education. Together we visited Aboriginal organisations here in Adelaide and I watched him as he interacted with the children, instilling principles of his culture along the way. He was teaching the children songs that they could use like counting games with their fingers which translated to the following: I Love Mother and Father for each of their fingers and every single child in those classrooms was abuzz with this simple yet very effective learning tool which teaches respect. Dr Yogi also shared with them another hand association memory tool used in Nepal to instill the following: Loving, Respectful, Thoughtful, Appreciative and Caring. Children in Nepal are taught these very important messages right throughout their lives and it shows in the behavior and respect the community has for each other at all levels of society. Now I came home that day and shared these songs with my young 2 year old nephew, and he then went to day care and shared it there, now remember he is only 2 years old, 2 years and 1 month to be precise and EVERY time I walk into his presence he grabs his fingers and sings to me ‘I love Mum & Dad’, it is as easy as that!

Dr Chintamani’s message for the Children of the World in his own words is this:

‘The children of the world are the only hope of this modern world. The politicians do talk about revolution but I do believe in reformation and it can happen only through children and the youth. And their future depends on the society. No one should run away from the social responsibility as we are always deeply inter-connected with our own society. Our failures and successes also depend on our own society, so it is our duty to think of it, and make a good change, just by blaming upon others nothing can be achieved. So the children of this modern age should be able to know the world but to know about their own roots as well. They should learn the computer technology but should be able to enjoy in the nature also. They should make many friends on a global level but should be able to be close with their own family members also. They should follow their own religion but should serve God in every human form they should take pride in their own culture but should respect all other faiths and cultures as well. I have met thousands of children and youths in my life; they are from various backgrounds, from different nationalities, different religious backgrounds. Every time I meet the children either in Nepal or elsewhere I have found that they all need a Right vision at Right time. They all need good Sanskaras (good human values practiced from the childhood) from their schools and from their family. So my dear children of the world. WAKE UP! Make your foundation now, as it’s the only RIGHT TIME, Think globally and act locally, Try to be better but not the best, Learn the cooperation, not only competition, Follow your Heart, not only the Brain, MAY GOD BLESS YOU ALL’ – Dr Chintamani Yogi http://www.myhero.com/go/hero.asp?hero=Chintamani_LC_HVP_07_ul

You know, it is not rocket science but sometimes we cannot see the forest for the trees, all it takes is for someone to come along and state the obvious, shed some light and things become clearer, new ideas and initiatives can then emerge. A complex matrix has evolved keeping us in this constant cycle of perpetual Lateral violence and it was deliberate in its intent.

The good thing is that it is never too late to change and in the words of Mahatma Gandhi you must ‘be the change you want to see in the world’. In turning Lateral violence around we can empower every Aboriginal & Islander person we personally come into contact with, that includes our own children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, aunties, uncles, extended family members, students, colleagues, friends and acquaintances. Listen to them with an open mind and heart and be genuine in all your interactions.

In my opinion, I believe that we have failed miserably in our attempts at Cultural Awareness Programs throughout this Nation. We need to focus on the education of and understanding of the true meaning of Lateral violence by incorporating this knowledge into Cultural Safety Programs, programs that have real accountabilities and competencies attached to them, that need to be maintained in an ongoing capacity much the same at First Aid Certificates in this country. By ‘true meaning’ I will share with you once again the wisdom of Cheri Yavu Kama Harathunian,

‘the violence born from the outcomes of the manner in which our parents and their parents learned to survive, the historical violence perpetrated upon our ancestors from so called settlement, through the policies of the past and too you and to me in this present time. Our families’ oral histories are filled with smatterings of ways and means of survival that carried over from one generation to the next’. Every single issue we face today is underpinned by this negative collective consciousness and the well-known manifestations of this Lateral violence. The effects are devastatingly apparent. All of the millions of dollars poured into Cultural Awareness have not worked because Lateral violence is on the increase. ‘Our young people have the right to live life to the full, not carry victimisation, or survival techniques that they watch their parents use and once again perpetrate the cycle of lateral violence upon themselves and others’.

So that is the crux of phase 1 of this Lateral Violence Campaign that started on 23 January 2012 from my living room when I asked the facebook community a couple of questions, the first being ‘Does anyone know what Lateral violence was? and the second, ‘Does anyone know the opposite of Lateral violence’?

Now, in the few weeks since the inception of this campaign, I received hundreds of accounts of social racism, organisational racism and racial hatred, physical, emotional, mental and financial abuse flooding my inboxes and facebook walls and as these stories continue to flood in it is very important for them to be heard. The manifestations of Lateral violence resonated with almost every single human being regardless of race.

Phase 2 has also begun; the conversations have started and we are calling for every single person to talk with as many people as possible about Lateral violence, sharing the ‘true meaning’ for us as Aboriginal and Islander people of this country, our country. Share your own personal experiences with Lateral violence, talk about the difficulties you have faced and the types of things that we are now coming to understand in a more holistic way.

Encouragement, nurturing and sharing is the only way forward and we must enforce this behavior in every interaction we have, especially with our young people. We must reinforce the opposite of Lateral violence from within our own ranks so that our young ones can grow with strength, knowledge and dignity steeped in Culture which is the focus of the Lateral Love and Spirit of Care for all Mankind 2012 Campaign. Love and Respect for all mankind. By enabling contemplation about what the opposite of Lateral violence is, we can instill this behavior into the lives of our children so that they will be equipped to identify racism and Lateral violence when they are confronted with it, and have in place effective strategies to cope and overcome these incidents from a position of knowledge and cultural power.

As we see the incidence of suicide increase dramatically amongst our young Aboriginal & Islander youth, I would like to remind you all of the seriousness and deliberate purpose to tackling this difficult issue – we must ‘acknowledge’, ‘understand’ and ‘address’ Lateral violence at every single level within our society if we hope to have any chance at halting youth suicide dead in its tracks in this country.

Lateral violence is an extremely personal and confronting topic, every individual has different feelings about it and there is no room for malice in this very important debate. We must all come together and share our stories whilst trying not to react on a personal level. Very difficult I know considering I just mentioned the seriously personal nature involved in dealing with Lateral violence.  The difficulty comes not only for each of us as individuals in attempting to manage our personal feelings and responses, but also with the family, friends and colleagues that we choose to share it with, and the difficult conversations that this topic brings to the fore. It will require a depth of strength and courage for us to deal with these issues and conversations, but I have faith that each and every one of you are more than capable and will push yourselves beyond your limits for the sake of our children.

Some of the feelings we can expect to be exposed from these discussions include, but are not limited to, the following: Anger, disappointment, fear, grief, guilt, isolation, feeling overwhelmed, relief, sadness, shame, threatened and defensive. One thing I know for certain is that we will all have a different reaction, view and perspective which will need to be respected and nurtured along the way.

We may never be ready to deal with the layer upon layer of Transgenerational trauma, pain and suffering and most certainly not in the same space or at the same time, but what we can do together is have the strength to lead by example and with conviction, start the uncomfortable conversations, force ourselves to share information regardless of ego or personal gain. Share with each other and bring back to life that lore that gave us our beautiful ways, our caring and sharing.

Lateral violence happens to all people, within all cultures across the world, but the type of Lateral violence I am talking about here relates specifically to Aboriginal and Islander people in this country. As a people we need a collective healing, we need it now and we need it to come from within our own families and communities.

In choosing to utilise modern technology in an attempt to share this information as widely as possible, I quickly found it necessary to address some social networking issues as they linked directly to Lateral violence and it was being played out on this unmetered platform. The important thing to remember here is that when we read something disrespectful and negative about ourselves, it leaves an imprint on our mind and reinforces itself into our subconscious longer than that which is spoken verbally in the heat of debate. We can unfortunately read and re-read negative perpetrations again and again which can cause disastrous ramifications in my opinion, and as we have all seen in the media, can lead our people to suicide.

Our children need us to come together in unity to give them a strong base of solidarity and culture to help them to grow and shape their way into the future; a solid base that is free from the binds of Lateral violence and oppression. Again the wisdom of Cheri Yavu Kama Harathunian explains Lateral violence in a way that resonates with me and expresses the true meaning that I am speaking about throughout this Campaign;

‘This ‘yellow snake’, this lateral violence has been curled up in our peoples living moments for three centuries, because it sinuously crawled amongst our peoples for over the last 300 years. We were not only forced to suffer the invasion of 1788. We have been carrying that suffering with us all of this time and our ancestors learned very well and copied the violence that was perpetrated against them and used what they learned to ensure that with violence they would individually survive”…”Even in our survival techniques there was violence, because peoples had to go up against each other, go up against their loved ones, anyone that they saw who was a threat to their own survival. We learned to turn our faces away from each other, and began to wear ‘Big Shame’ in our waking and sleeping hours. We learned to be ‘takers’ not ‘givers’ and then the government blest us with welfare and for years we did not realise it but our minds were being conditioned to accept that this was our lot and we developed and then suffered from and some of us still suffer from a welfare mentality. We learned that it was okay to hit, stamp on, fight with, brutalise, torment each other just to get on, and become like the invaders because they were getting a better deal out of life”. “We were taught by religion that “White was right and black was evil” and we learned to hate ourselves, our culture, our languages, and our own God given ways of being who we are; First Nations peoples with many nation names.  Political violence forced our ancestors to become slaves, victims and perpetrators of the violence that seemed to work and help the invaders get on and become something.  We turned into each other, and began to practice the violence that we saw and here we are today.  But it is our young, our beautiful young ones who now openly manifest this insidious thing that takes them to that place where they feel so hopeless and helpless. They go to that bleak place where for them the only solution to their pain is to take control of their own choice to take their most precious gift – life – and they choose to go to sleep forever to ease their suffering and their pain and their disconnection from themselves, their family, their people, their culture, and their sacred lands. They haven’t even lived! That ‘yellow snake’ that Lateral violence has to be addressed.’ Cheri Yavu Kama Harathunian 2012

We need to go beyond the surface of what we know, beyond the reactionary world we have come to live by that has done its darnedest to numb our spiritual souls for over 200 years. Knowing Lateral violence, and that it has underpinned our existence, is the first step to healing for each and every one of us.

What does ‘Lateral violence’ look like in our everyday lives in the here and now? People all around this country have been sharing their resonation, anguish and despair since the inception of this Campaign and in the hope of providing some clarity into the varying depths and levels of manifestations of ‘Lateral violence’ I will share some of them with you.

WORKPLACE BULLYING (Is a manifestation of Lateral violence)

This is occurring in almost every workplace, right across the country no matter what colour you are, or what level you are employed at. Increasing at an alarming rate though, is the amount of Aboriginal and Islander managers and colleagues who are bullying and intimidating their Aboriginal and Islander staff at all levels. The problem here is that we have many senior people in positions of power, and to get to the positions these people have had to fight and claw their way to the top, particularly within Government institutions and their fight was not an easy one. Whilst they may be educated in the ways of Government and be ‘experts’ in their field, and be able to talk the talk to be in these roles, many lack some very basic fundamental management skills. Through years of being conditioned by their peers through poor treatment, they are now unable to see the torment and pain they are inflicting upon others, some causing insurmountable pain and suffering that has unfortunately been leading many of our young ones to attempt suicide and sadly many have succeeded. These young people often looked up to their Aboriginal and Islander leaders who have made it to the top and try to seek guidance and assistance, only to be treated like half rate citizens and bullied back into some kind of subservience. These senior Aboriginal and Islander people continue to perpetuate their own victimizing behavior. This ultimately alienates good people who are willing to fight the cause with them and also undermines any genuine intentions they may have toward improving the health and wellbeing of the greater community.

There is an inherent ‘fear’ among this type of manager or leader, a fear that the young ones we are seeing today, who are articulate, educated and intelligent, possess such a talent that requires them to be kept in their place; put into a holding box because they are a threat to the very position and level of power that the manager or leader may themselves hold within the rank of their organisation.

One young man told me about a typical start to his day, which occurred every day for over 10 years, and that day always started with his manager asking for the latest gossip around the organisation and that was quickly followed up with a rundown from the manager of all the things that the young man’s colleagues were supposedly in fact saying about him. Then the manager would tell the young staff member all the people that he should steer clear of and that he must take information from certain people with a grain of salt because they were ‘trouble makers’ and he should not want to be seen associating with this one or that. At the end of the day, this young man was left in a very isolated position, with no faith or trust in any of the Aboriginal and Islander people whom he worked very closely with. This young person was treated in a manner that instilled distrust and fear so that he would remain faithful and subservient to the one person who appeared to be holding all of the cards for his success and advancement. On many occasions he was told that he would never get another job anywhere or amount to anything without the support of this particular Aboriginal overlord manager, and that the manager was the sole reason he even had a position in the first place. There were many threats and a constant barrage of manipulative mind games and power struggles held over this young man, which resulted in ongoing depression, anxiety, an extensive Work Cover claims not to mention the years spent trying to rebuild his confidence and self-esteem. The young men and women who have contacted me throughout this Campaign are calling out for our help. They are sharing their stories of torment, maltreatment, bullying, isolation and intimidation. The simple fact is this, they are being mowed down at every opportunity by their own Aboriginal and Islander ‘role models’.

I don’t know about you, but in my opinion, the way we are treating our own people is much more damaging to soul and spirit than what we would inherently expect to experience in mainstream. Peers who are too scared about their own stability need to learn to go beyond their limitations and provide genuine care, support and encouragement.

RELATIONSHIP MELTDOWNS (Manifestations of Lateral violence and Transgenerational Trauma)

In the home we are finding so many people at breaking point in their relationships, with their partners, their kids, their family and friends. Some of these men and women only know how to express anger. Violence and anger go hand in hand and when the only emotion you know how to express is anger, then violence is the only release we are going to see. All of the emotions one feels is expressed in the only way known so feelings of sadness and disappointment are represented by anger. This is in some cases, a post traumatic response to experiences witnessed and learned from a lifetime of the manifestations of ‘Lateral violence’. As a young sacred child we see and learn from what is around us, we emulate our parents, family and friends striving to be just like them, which unfortunately has seen many perpetuating these learned attitudes and values in adult life.

One of the main problems we must understand in these scenarios is this; we now have several generations that have stemmed from this Transgenerational trauma. Now if we think about this realistically, people were torn from their families and placed in institutions and homes across the country. Some people were lucky to find themselves in loving homes but these were few and far between. The reality for many was a myriad of ‘placements’ all without any real longevity or genuine nurturing, love and care. Some people were placed in up to 17 or more homes across the country before reaching an age where they could run away and fend for themselves. I won’t go into details about the unfathomable treatment that many people experienced during these terrible times but want you all to think about this – How can we expect adults who have had experiences like this, to automatically display nurturing behaviors of love and affection? To instinctively know how to ‘Mother’ or ‘Father’ their offspring when the time comes for them to be a parent? Mothering and Fathering is a skill that now needs to be taught and learned by the next generations that are to come if we are to rebalance ourselves as a culture. Each person strives to provide a better life for their children than what they experienced for themselves. Kids need their parents to interact with them and teach them what it means to be alive and show them how to live a fulfilling and meaningful life.

ISOLATION (A result of the survival mechanism we still need to save ourselves because we have not yet started to acknowledge, understand and address Lateral violence on the grand scale that is needed)

So many people have shared stories of needing to isolate themselves from family and loved ones because of infighting, drug and alcohol abuse, physical, mental and emotional violence in all its ugly manifestations. This isolation is another form of ‘Lateral violence’, the manifestation of the survival mechanisms of old that we still need to employ to keep ourselves sane and somewhat distanced from immediate harm and turmoil. I can understand why so many people like to think and act ‘globally’ when dealing with these types of issues, because once you start addressing it at your local level (within your own families and organisations) things can get very nasty and extremely messy in just a few misunderstood moments. Please be careful whilst talking to your loved ones and remember that it will take time for others to come around to understanding where we are coming from. It saddens me that we are still being disconnected though our own design from the people that we love in order to survive. I am certain that taking these very difficult, important steps will improve our wellbeing for us and our children and the generations that will follow. IT IS TIME TO STOP THIS CYCLE OF COLONIAL ABUSE ONCE AND FOR ALL.

TAINTED SERVICE DELIVERY (This is also Lateral violence)

I see many Aboriginal and Islander people working in Organisations and Government Institutions which claim to be providing a service to Grass Roots people and communities. We continue to see nepotism and the ‘who you know’ scenario played out on a daily basis within our own culture, service to our communities are being undermined to the dire detriment of our people.

One particular case that comes to mind just amazes me, I do not know how any person can apply for assistance from an Aboriginal service and then have that application go unaddressed for three (3) years. Three (3) years until a first contact letter acknowledging receipt of the initial request for information and assistance was placed by the applicant. This application sat in somebodies ‘In Tray’ for three (3) years!!! All the while, the poor applicant was becoming extremely distressed with compounding health issues mounting to depression and anxiety which were slowly impeding on the everyday functionality of this person to carry on about their life. Their family commitments began to suffer and their work and personal life was severely affected. Other applications in appears continued to be dealt with on a regular basis for reasons unbeknownst to me, but which I later found were because they were ‘known’ to the establishment. So I guess we need to ask the question…who is really deciding the level of service that each person needs? Who is playing god with the lives and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Islander people in this country? This is pure Lateral violence. I have since learned of another case where the client did not receive any information or contact for 12 years, this is completely unacceptable and this file is most likely still sitting in the ‘In Tray’.

IMPEDING PROOF OF ABORIGINALITY (Denying an Aboriginal or Islander person the necessary and appropriate documentation required to access services is Lateral violence)

I cannot count, how many times, I have heard comments about this one being ‘too white’ or a ‘coconut’, or that one not knowing anybody from their ‘real community’ or they have never been ‘home to country’, or that one’s parents didn’t identify so they shouldn’t be acknowledged or accepted either. This is pure Lateral violence. How can we have this mentality within our own ranks where a person who may be the product of the ‘Stolen Generations’ can be ridiculed and denied services from the community and labeled as ‘not black enough’. Aboriginality comes from within and is about a spirituality that extends far beyond the colour of the skin. Being ‘not connected to your country’ is part of the deliberate intent of colonisation, surely not knowing your ‘homeland’ is punishment enough and requires no further alienation from us, doesn’t it? They were after all stolen. And the way in which some families from those times chose to survive was to attempt to assimilate. So many of our young people are experiencing this type of violence on a daily basis, how demoralizing it must be to have your identity constantly in question by mainstream and even more soul destroying when it comes from our own peoples.

INABILITY TO SEE A GOOD OPPORTUNITY OR HAVE THE GUTS TO TAKE IT (This is part of the Victim mentality cycle which is a direct result of Lateral violence)

There is an ongoing struggle to provide our young people culturally safe employment and opportunities. I see money being poured into employment initiatives that still fail to provide the support mechanisms necessary to back these young people up whilst they attempt to be a part of the so called ‘even playing field’. Another take I am witnessing is this, our young Aboriginal and Islander people are passing up good, positive opportunities because they cannot see the opportunities right in front of their faces for looking. The loss of identity and lack of self-worth is denying our young ones the ability to connect and share with other Aboriginal and Islander people.

The negativity and vicious cycles of abuse are causing further isolation and denial of services. The attitudes being displayed by some young people disturbs me greatly, we have young men and women who need our immediate support and attention. Focus needs to be shifted from the old, well-worn attitudes of playing the ‘poor black fulla me’ card because this attitude is alienating them the genuine people in their lives who can provide support and guidance. Not just our kids, but all of us need to learn to seek and then FOLLOW THROUGH in accepting support and guidance. We need ongoing empowerment to make positive changes and to learn to trust in ourselves and rebuild trust in each other.

DESTRUCTION OF PHYSICAL HEALTH (A very real manifestation of Lateral violence)

There are many of our people experiencing extreme poor health across all age groups, this is not something new. Where we are seeing an increase though is with our young managers and leaders in the 35 – 45 age bracket having heart attacks and triple bypasses, suffering Diabetes, mental health issues, depression and anxiety for our people is through the roof, Transgenerational trauma needs to be understood and catered for in mainstream health programs, and there is an urgency for ‘Lateral violence’ knowledge to form the basis of any new programs around health care for Aboriginal and Islander people. How can you treat a problem if you do not have a firm knowledge of the root causes and the underlying issues which affect ALL Aboriginal and Islander people in one way or another right back from 1788 due to colonisation, whether you are a Traditional Owner with issues steeped in Sovereignty, or a Stolen Generation descendant struggling to understand your roots and where you come from or one of the children who have been almost convinced into successful assimilation but still find yourself looking for that missing piece because you just don’t really fit in!

It’s an extremely difficult task we are trying to accomplish here; a problem which stems from years and years of deliberate maltreatment with purposeful intent that is just not going to go away overnight. As I have mentioned before, we are not all going to agree, or be on the same page at the same time, we all know negativity breeds negativity and being nasty and negative seems a lot easier than the opposite, being positive and encouraging takes strength, determination and shear guts when you take all of this into context. It is like trying to quit grog or cigarettes, it is bloody HARD WORK. The good thing is that the change is far reaching and the positive impacts will resonate in waves once we get started – it is also contagious.


At the Organisations level each and every organisation and government institution must revisit their constitutions and policy frameworks to include the clause ‘Zero Tolerance to Lateral Violence’ and as I mentioned above we must focus on the education and understanding of the true meaning of Lateral violence by incorporating this knowledge into ‘Cultural Safety Programs’ that have accountabilities and competencies attached to them and that need to be registered and maintained in an ongoing capacity much the same at First Aid Certificates in this country.

We must take a new approach to teaching our young children, right from the birth, focusing our teaching methods to include cultural knowledge and respectful behaviors as I witnessed when Dr Chintamani Yogi visited our country.

At the individual level we must share this information with everyone we know, family, friends, loved ones, colleagues, even the ones we don’t know because this is a human condition, we are all able to relate to these issues regardless of race, colour or creed.

If you are in an influential position that involves Aboriginal and Islander staff, I beg you to make your primary goal about nurturing your fellow Aboriginal and Islander people. Make them your number one priority and gain their respect through your genuine actions, give them someone worthy to look up too. Put yourself in others shoes once in a while, chances are your treatment of them may be a subconscious reflection of the way you were once treated. Maybe you too are experiencing ‘Lateral violence’ from your own peers and mainstream colleagues. In this day and age the apprenticeship mentality should be well and truly abolished. I am not saying that what happened to you is not equally as important, but in order for us to break the cycle, it must be dealt with in its own right. Our young people did not do this to us and they should not be hauled through the same cycle of abuse just to make ourselves feel better.

Share positive information and opportunities across all organisations and fields. We are currently in possession of the world’s most amazing technologies; use these to your advantage. Emailing, instant messaging and social media mean we are able to connect with each other and indeed many more people than ever before. Use these tools to empower one another, not to abuse, ridicule or continue to perpetuate Lateral violence through ‘Cyber Bullying’ and pack mentality upon our own people.

Start ‘Yarning Circles’ across all levels of society; this means grass roots, communities, in the home, in the office, in existing networks and committees, in services, in departments and in agencies – GET LATERAL VIOLENCE ON THE MINDS AND TONGUES OF ALL PEOPLE.

This initiative is taking off around the country and I am so proud to say that many of our intelligent young people are leading the way to start this universal healing. They truly are our future, we need to empower them and instill strength and courage so they will be able to withstand anything that comes their way once the elders of this land have joined the spirit world. There are existing Men’s and Women’s groups across the country that have contacted me and asked for guidance and support in their camps and meetings to share this information on ‘Lateral violence’. The response has been staggering, there is not one person out there that this topic has not struck a very personal chord with and so many are up for the challenge of addressing and eradicating ‘Lateral violence’ once and for all.

Many people have approach me, asking for permission to translate the ‘Lateral violence’ information into Language, showing initiative and coming up with strategies to tackle ‘Lateral violence’ head on. If you have the way and means of doing this type of translation in your own communities, please do so. The more we can share with our loved ones and enable open conversations about ‘Lateral violence’ the better our futures will be.

Translation is not just about Language, it is also about literacy barriers as well. If members of your family are unable to read this material, please take the time to read it to them. If there are people out there who have experiences they need to share, offer to write it down for them, sharing experiences is a positive first step in the healing process. Those of you who have stories to share please email them to the address at the bottom of this article and indicate your authority to have your stories included in our discussions either anonymously or in full. I believe the power of sharing helps others to identify the types of things we are talking about that occur on a daily basis as many of the issues we face, that can be attributed to many other factors, all stem from one true evil which is ‘Lateral violence’.

Racism is alive and well in the country that is for sure. Lateral violence goes far deeper than that, beyond the common understanding of racism, because it is primarily about the deliberate and intended means of the destruction of our race, and that means of destruction was instilled so deeply within the psyche of our people with intent for us to continually perpetuate this deliberate means of destruction onto one another, with the end result to enable us to unwittingly exterminate ourselves from the inside, so subtle that we would remain ever vigilant in destroying each other whilst continuing to be not so blissfully unaware.

I do not believe Lateral violence is a new western sabotage or smoke screen, not the type of violence I am talking about. Accepting, understanding and sharing is the key to us moving forward as a strong and healthy Nation and to do that we MUST examine Lateral violence. It is not acceptable to keep blaming the ‘other’ for how we treat our own, understanding how we all got to this point is important for us to begin healing.

If we want to seriously address the issues of youth suicide in this country, if we want to truly improve the health and wellbeing of all Aboriginal and Islander people, if we want to live in a world where we are regarded as equals then Lateral violence MUST be acknowledged, understood and addressed!

Lateral violence knows no love, understanding or compassion but we, as human beings, do have the power to heal, heal ourselves, heal each other and our strengthen our collective cultural spirit!

William Brian Butler

March 25, 2012

Mobile: 0419 801 085

Email: brianbutler33@hotmail.com

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article the personal views of the author and the author only. They do not necessarily represent the views of the National Congress of Australia’s First People or any other Organisation until such time as they sign up to that fact, it will change from Organisation to Organisation once they have included the clause ‘Zero Tolerance to Lateral Violence’ in their constitutions and policy documents.


  1. I applaud your efforts!

    The sadness in this world is, at times, overpowering. Culture is the pack of lies we all, in the group, agree to pretend are the truth. Those unwilling to pretend are a threat to the small manner of existential security our collective pretending offers us. They must be eliminated or converted, for our sake, not theirs.

    And so it has always been for man the tribal creature. How we get beyond this…. I don’t know. Except be individual efforts to understand exactly “what it means to be human”. Only then can we, perhaps, begin to see our magnificent diversity as a plus… a wonderment… another facet of the diamond that can only add to its brilliance.

    Thank you for your efforts in this direction. The sun is just coming up here, on the East side of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia, USA, and reading what was written here, above, has added to my hope for mankind and, I confess, made the sounds of the song birds a little bit sweeter.

    I wish you well.

  2. Lynette Hughes says:

    I really get enthused and excited to read your work. It’s special.

  3. Bumba says:

    Sitting comfortably in Los Angeles I still hear your argument and support your efforts to combat lateral violence. Native peoples and tribal cultures the world over are similarly plagued by long histories of exploitation, trauma, and cruelty, which continue to this day. But the psychological effects of military subjugation and generations of control have entered native peoples and gives rise to what you call lateral violence. On top of that, all cultures are being eroded by American commercialism. Awareness of the truth helps. So keep on, brothers.

  4. Caty Vasconcelos says:

    i completely agree with you.

  5. Carol Zinha says:

    great article.

  6. Moyna says:

    Reading your piece has inspired me and touched me in ways of wanting to make changes in my work place as an Aboriginal worker working in a non Aboriginal organisation as a family violence DV worker. Thank you so much as I learnt so much and love to learn more to work with my Aboriginal clientals.
    I am a follower of you and your team and can use this information to work better along the terms of Lateral violence.
    Sincerely thanks.

  7. Dardiff 1760 says:

    thanks a lot!

  8. Cissa Mariano says:

    great news, keep posting.

  9. lowerarchy says:

    Most impressive description of the work being done to alleviate this terrible suffering. I’m planning to visit Australia in 2013 and hope to meet some of you lovely people and get involved in some of the activities. Love and support from England x

  10. Genevieve says:

    I constantly spent my half an hour to read this blog’s articles or reviews daily along with a cup of coffee.

  11. Lakeisha Faulk says:

    bookmarked!!, I really like your site!

  12. Othmar says:

    Dear Brian,
    lateral violence is indeed a very difficult issue in marginalized populations all over the world. It is a mechanism that supports oppression and domination by another group. In a recent study, I have found that lateral violence among nurses working in the delivery of health services to indigenous communities in the far north of Canada engage in a lateral violence mechanism by potentially lashing out against their clients because of their domination by the medical profession.
    In the end, it is the indigenous client populations that suffer from the consequences through a widening of health disparities and a lack of cultural safety. My inquiry “Reconsidering the NO SHOW stamp: Increasing cultural safety by making peace with a colonial legacy” will be published shortly in the December issue of The Northern Review (36). http://journals.sfu.ca/nr/index.php/nr
    It will take many more efforts to overcome lateral violence, even better all forms of violence and to achieve true healing for all. Keep up the spirit!

    Othmar F. Arnold,
    Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada

  13. Siuyinh says:

    There are so many interrelated issues you have discussed in some manner of depth in this article, and I just want to say that in many ways I can personally identify with a good number of these issues on a deeply historical and present-day level of personal experiential awareness. Two in particular stand out most readily at this time and these are inter-generational trauma and perpetuation of internalised oppression through lateral violence.

    It is also very difficult sometimes to confront these issues within an intra-community context because sometimes it is the case that when one is trying to do so, one comes up a barrage of denial. You get those people within the community who are going to come out and say – “Well, this is all part and parcel of having to come to terms with being hated for being different and in order to avert persecution, people co-opted or adopted the habits and fashions of the dominant society. If they didn’t do this, they wouldn’t have been able to “get on” and survive.” Just before Christmas me and a friend from the same community met and talked about where we were currently at on our journey of self-actualization. During our time together we discussed the issue of cultural assimilation and how this has historically adversely affected us as a people. I touched on the issue of it damaging our ability to “be us” and went at some lengths to try and explain how in fact these assimilationist tactics have psychologically tried to turn us into Europeans. She agreed but then went on to defend the giving in of many to this push to assimilate as “the only option” sometimes in the face of relentless persecution. I tried to hear what she was saying because I felt for her confusion and I tried to explain to her that co-opting just makes matters worse for our own community because what it is – is essentially giving up of our own soul and replacing it artificially with another that isn’t ours. I probably didn’t say it as clearly as this but my intention was to convey the point about the cultural damage giving into assimilation does.

    The following excerpt from your article Brian is a really poignant present-day example from the local situation in Australia which clearly serves to highlight the seriousness of damage done when we buy into the ways of corporate ladder-climbing at the expense of our own moral consciousness:

    “These young people often looked up to their Aboriginal and Islander leaders who have made it to the top and try to seek guidance and assistance, only to be treated like half rate citizens and bullied back into some kind of subservience. These senior Aboriginal and Islander people continue to perpetuate their own victimizing behavior. This ultimately alienates good people who are willing to fight the cause with them and also undermines any genuine intentions they may have toward improving the health and wellbeing of the greater community. ” [Butler, 2012, WORKPLACE BULLYING (Is a manifestation of Lateral violence)]

    See what’s getting in there? Phariseeism! That’s exactly what has resulted from some traditional people taking on (unconsciously or consciously) the adverse assimilationist ways which the colonists inadvertently forced them to adopt. Of course, these members of the traditional community (these leaders) are not exempt from their own responsibility in taking on board these unhealthy practices. That is all part of why we must be ultra conscientious in healing these areas of our histories and our current situations where manifestations of such co-options exist. We have a choice – to act upon the wisdom of our ancestors or to ignore that wisdom and play the game of ‘knowing-it-all’ from a world’s system perspective. If we choose to play the world system’s game, then we have fallen into the hands of assimilationist tactics, thereby perpetuating lateral violence.

    This perpetuation undermines potential collaboration and solidarity amongst us because stratifying and placing class divisions in status/rank in between us and our relations is giving into the “divide and rule” strategy the world system wants us to succumb to. If they can’t beat us by will of force, they will try a sneaky and politically sophisticated tactic of getting us to fight amongst ourselves by firstly trying to acculturate us and then enculturate us into their hierarchical modus operandi. This means that slowly we become numb to the effects of this system operating under our noses and eventually we become sucked into its’ grasp, acting out of it, and puffing it up meanwhile we try to make it on the outside or exterior look cosmetically like “ours” – dressing it up in some kind of traditional garb. On the inside though, the ethics of practice remain the same as those of the secular or Eurocentric world – top-down strata, getting one up on the next person and telling those ‘beneath’ you to take a step back or to sit in the place reserved for ‘outsiders’ or those of ‘lower rank’.

    We must be aware of this within our own communities in the present day as well as learn from our own histories where this kind of phenomena has besieged us. We must also be on guard against it in relation to collaboration and solidarity efforts between us as uniquely different but equally united in struggle, indigenous cultures, nations and peoples. On the international level this is very important too because there are many media sensationalists and political opportunists who would want to try and avert emergence of genuine, unbridled solidarity between us native peoples world-wide. These negative forces want to tarnish the indigenous peoples’ movement by turning inside out the portrayals of how certain struggles on the international scene have played out. There are those who want to distort the truth about these struggles so as to divide and conquer the indigenous rights movement globally. We must be vigilant and do our very best not to let this continue.

    I love your blog Brian – thanks for being a vibrant and resilient part of the change.

  14. Having spent so much time learning about lateral violence, I feel that the name of your blog says it all!

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