Although I finished my anthropology degree seven years ago, when the opportunity arose to apply for the internship program I decided it was something I would like to experience. Although I have worked for Indigenous communities in urban areas, I knew that the placement would provide a unique insight into the work of land councils, and the specific needs of Indigenous people in a remote area.
During week one of my internship at a regional land council office, unseasonal rain disrupted plans for a National Parks meeting in a remote area. Instead, I was based in the office, and the anthropologist I was assigned to gave me reports to read about the region. I was lucky enough to be introduced to some senior Traditional Owners, whose stories were inspirational and historically, extremely important. By the end of the week I was able to accompany a staff member for a two day trip to a community to inform them about an upcoming meeting.
In week two I began examining some genealogies, and found the complexity of the family structures and relationships extremely challenging. As a non-Indigenous person of Anglo descent, there is no comparison between my family structure and that of an Indigenous person from the local area. It took several attempts before I could even ‘read’ the family trees. I attended a meeting between Traditional Owners and a mining company, an experience that I found very interesting. Bridging the communication gap is an important role for the anthropologist, along with making the options available abundantly clear.
Unfortunately in week three I became ill, and had to excuse myself from a four day National Parks meeting with Traditional Owners. Naturally I was very disappointed but felt that it was too risky to be isolated from medical assistance. It may also have jeopardized the health of the elderly Traditional Owners if I had participated.
Week four was spent in the capital city office, as the anthropologist had work to complete there. During this time I assisted some senior female anthropologists who are based there. This was helpful; not only was I able to witness different anthropological approaches, but I was also able to discuss career paths and the obstacles that female staff may encounter whilst working for communities that still have strong gender divisions.
In week five I was lucky to attend a different National Parks meeting with Traditional Owners. The location was very remote and the scenery spectacular. I assisted in the camp kitchen and facilitated discussions with some of the female Traditional Owners where possible. The womens’ generosity in terms of sharing their knowledge was overwhelming. Despite asking very few questions, they were forthcoming in their knowledge about the area, and I felt most privileged and welcome in their presence. For a group of people who have had some terrible experiences with non-Indigenous people, they were unexpectedly open and honest.
I thoroughly enjoyed my internship, and would recommend students or graduates to apply for the program. I believe that working for Traditional Owners is an enormous privilege, and the program can provide ‘a taste’ of what working for a land council is like. This is important, as I feel new anthropologists should be properly informed and aware of the benefits and negative aspects of working as an anthropologist. It takes time to build trusting relationships with Indigenous communities, and continuity of staff is vital. Some stories or pieces of historical information may take several years to emerge, and this only happens once the anthropologist is trusted by the Traditional Owners.
The program has certainly given me renewed vigour for my role as coordinator for an urban based Indigenous organization. The slow pace was something that struck me during the internship, and has served as a reminder that good communication and the building of relationships is far more important than constantly checking the clock.