How culture shapes our identity card image

No matter who you are, we all have culture. Each person’s culture is important; it’s part of what makes us who we are.

So what's culture?

Essentially, culture refers to a people’s way of life - their ideas, values, customs and social behaviour. Culture includes things like the way we do weddings and funerals, the food we like to eat, the way we dress and the music we like. Culture is passed down from generation to generation, and while cultural practices and beliefs change and evolve, many of the basic aspects remain the same.

So even though we may dress differently from our grandparents and hold different religious or political beliefs, it’s likely there are elements of the way you live that can be traced back to them. These cultural elements have a strong influence on who we are, how we think about the world and how we operate in society.

Even me?

For some people, the idea that everyone has culture could be new. This is particularly true for people who are part of mainstream society. In this case, trying to identify your culture may be challenging at first because it’s so natural and normal that it’s virtually invisible to us.

Sometimes it becomes clearer when you think about your culture in light of someone else’s. For example, how the holidays you celebrate, the types of food you eat, the clothing you wear and the way you approach events such as births, deaths and marriages are similar to or different from another culture.

What does this have to do with Indigenous culture?

Many Indigenous people in Australia have a unique view of the world that’s distinct from the mainstream. Land, family, law, ceremony and language are five key interconnected elements of Indigenous culture. For example, families are connected to the land through the kinship system, and this connection to land comes with specific roles and responsibilities which are enshrined in the law and observed through ceremony. In this way, the five elements combine to create a way of seeing and being in the world that’s distinctly Indigenous.

Understanding how intricately interconnected these elements are, helps us understand the damage done when colonisation occurred. When people are disconnected from culture, this has a deep impact on their sense of identity and belonging, which gives meaning and purpose to people’s lives. Understanding this helps us find appropriate ways to respond to the pain caused by colonisation.

Difference and similarity

Although there’s diversity amongst Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures, land, family, law, ceremony and language actually play a crucial role in shaping all our lives, regardless of our culture or heritage. Identifying what this looks like in our own life can help us develop empathy with others.

For example, consider how your life is shaped by the language you speak, your own family traditions, the area where you live and how you approach significant life events such as weddings and funerals. As we grow in empathy and understanding, we begin to relate better to one another.

How will empathy and understanding make a difference?

To truly relate to another person, it’s useful to understand a bit about their culture. This means that for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians to come together for a better future, it’s important for all Australians to learn about Indigenous culture, as well as becoming more aware of our own.

Learning about Indigenous culture and valuing and celebrating it in our mainstream society is one way we can begin to address the challenges we see today. As we learn about Indigenous culture, we can begin to relate to each other better, recognise the cultural history of this land and value the ongoing, rich cultural legacy of this place we call home.

As a nation, our identity and character can be strengthened by a respectful appreciation of the various expressions of Indigenous culture. As we celebrate, value and take pride in Indigenous culture, we’ll be supporting and strengthening Indigenous peoples’ sense of value in the process.

Genuinely seeking to understand Indigenous culture can help dispel stereotypes and myths about Indigenous people that result from a misunderstanding which serves to perpetuate disadvantage and discrimination.

As individuals, there's much we can learn from Indigenous culture. If we open ourselves to humbly learning about a different worldview, we can grow in our understanding of ourselves and be enriched by another way of thinking about the world.