How to cope when you feel like a spokesperson for mob

Being a part of the oldest continuing living culture in the world means you have so much rich history and tradition to be proud of and to share with others. But, however proud you are, constantly being asked questions about what it’s like to be Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander can get really tiring, really fast.

The feeling of being responsible for educating others about First Nations culture, practices or issues is often referred to as ‘cultural load’. Hear from UncleMotFinesseManeRoyston Noell, and Jahvis Loveday about how they cope with cultural load and with feeling like a spokesperson for the First Nations community.

Download the transcript.

Set boundaries

Saying "no" to that family or coworker can be as simple as: "I'm not comfortable talking about this right now. Can we please move on?"

Setting boundaries is hard, especially with your friends or people you’re close to, but boundaries help keep you strong and healthy. Here are some ways to set boundaries that were mentioned in the video:

  • Let the person know you’re not up for having a yarn about your culture right now.

  • Say ‘no’ when someone asks you to contribute a cultural practice at school, work or uni.

  • Suggest they Google their question or follow some First Nations content creators who often speak on the topic they’re asking about.

  • Ask the person for their own opinion and encourage them to do their own research.

The more you practise protecting your boundaries, the easier it becomes. Here are some examples of what you might say in one of these situations:

  • I don’t really feel up to talking about this right now. You could try looking it up. Here’s a couple of websites to get you started.

  • That question is probably better answered by an Elder or by someone from a different mob.

  • Thanks for asking, but I don’t have to do an Acknowledgement of Country at every assembly. It would be nice to see someone who isn’t Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander volunteer to do it.

If someone is pushing back and making you feel uncomfortable, you could walk away from the conversation or say something like:This is making me feel a bit uncomfortable. Can we please move on?

Find a balance

It's not your responsibility to represent all mob, all of the time.

It can feel great to share your knowledge and culture with people, but you don’t want to feel like you have to educate others all the time.

By finding a balance, you’re less likely to get burnt out and feel overwhelmed. Here are some tips:

  • Set a limit. Decide how much you’re willing to speak and share that day/week/month, then stick to that limit.

  • Visit with mob. Spend some time listening to stories from other mob to feel inspired by your community.

  • Look after your wellbeing. Finding moments of peace that relax and re-energise you will help you be ready to yarn with others.

  • Remember your role. It’s not your responsibility to be a representative for all First Nations people, and there’s no shame in not having all the answers.

  • The internet is your friend. Whether you just don’t want to answer a person’s question, or you aren't sure of the answer, send them to the internet! Sites like Common Ground and AIATSIS are great places to start.

Look out for yourself

It can get really overwhelming when people expect you to know anything and everything about First Nations culture, issues and history. Make it a habit to check in with yourself regularly and try these tips from the video:

  • Stick to your boundaries. The more you practise sharing your boundaries with others, the easier it will start to feel.

  • Put your phone down. Having a break from socials will help you to tune out any negativity and focus on self-care.

  • Take your time. There’s no need to answer every single question straight away. Process things at your own pace and pick up the conversation again when you feel ready.

  • Do things you love to do. Whether it’s listening to music, walking on Country, kicking a footy or hanging with friends, doing the things you love will keep you feeling happy and healthy.

Ask for support

Our Elders are people that pass down our knowledge and wisdom … It’s so amazing that we have these people and role models … that we need in that time and space.

You don’t have to go through this alone. Yarning with Elders, and hearing their stories and how they cope, can be really helpful. You can also ask other older mob in your community for their support, like your parents, aunties and uncles, or even older cousins and siblings. Chances are they’ve also faced this issue and will have a lot of wisdom to share.

You can also speak to your friends, colleagues or anyone else who might relate to how you’re feeling. Even if they aren’t a First Nations person, your friends will be able to support you in ways only a friend can. You could ask them to share their own experiences or perspectives, or to help you in practical ways, like coming round to your place to hang out and then putting all your phones in a bowl on the counter so you can stay offline for an arvo.

Plus, don’t underestimate the healing power of a good yarn with your cat, dog, bird, turtle – whatever! Your pets may not be able to talk back, but sharing your feelings with them can help you to get things off your chest, and they’ll always be there for a cuddle if you need one.

  • See how Wangkatha man Ben Stubbs found his trusted person when he needed support.

  • Share this article with allies to help them understand how to ease pressure off mob and share the cultural load.


Cultural identity