Celebrating Aboriginal kinship and community with Lisa Erlandson

NAIDOC Week is a national celebration and recognition of the history, culture, and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. It is an opportunity for all Australians to learn about First Nations cultures and histories and participate in celebrations of the oldest, continuous living cultures on earth.

Lisa Erlandson is a proud Arrernte and Kaytetye woman from Mparntwe (Alice Springs), and Program Management Consultant interning with Tetra Tech through our partnership with Yanun Project Management Services. In this article, she shares how her experience of kinship and community has been made possible through the leadership of Elders.

What is your background and family history?

I come from a large family in Central Australia, specifically Alice Springs – Mparntwe.

Lisa Erlandson and Deanella Mack (Lisa's Aunty)

Lisa Erlandson and Deanella Mack (Lisa’s Aunty)

My great grandfather had 25 children, and my mother is one of 12 kids. In our Aboriginal culture, when a child is born, they are assigned a skin name and a totem based on their tribe.

My skin name is Angale, and my totem is the Arrernte Totem Caterpillar. Additionally, I have totems from the Kaytetye tribe, which is the snake, and the Kokatha tribe, which is the Emu.

There are around 500 Aboriginal tribes in Australia. Sadly, since colonisation, many languages have become extinct or are in decline. Currently, 1/3 (90) languages are still spoken, 2/3 are vulnerable or extinct, and only 8% are healthy and actively passed down.

Can you tell us about Aboriginal kinship?

Aboriginal kinship is complex and dynamic, serving as a consistent force that binds Aboriginal people together. Traditionally, Indigenous families were collaborative units composed of various clans. Unlike the Western concept of identifying a mother’s cousins’ children as second cousins, Indigenous culture considers them as sisters or brothers. Indigenous family structures emphasize the value of extended family, often including distant relatives. This extended family structure ensures a sense of belonging, support, and shared responsibilities within the community.

What does the 2023 NAIDOC Week theme “For Our Elders” mean to you?

I have two views on what this means to me.

One is the fact that most of the Elders in this nation finally get national recognition for all the hard work they have put in for the younger generations today to be classed “Australian Citizens” of their own country.

I’m talking about Charles Perkins – and freedom riders, Eddie Mabo, The Wave Hill Walk Off that was led by Vincent Lingiari and those who were involved in bringing forward the 1967 Referendum and many other great indigenous leaders of this nation who took a stand against discrimination and racism. They pushed hard and fought with blood, sweat and tears to make a change against the government for their younger generation. They took a stand for us – for the future mob. As a young Indigenous woman, I could not imagine the pain, frustration, and hurt that they endured daily from the laws that were in place back in the day.

Secondly, I was fortunate enough to grow up in Alice Springs around many Elders from different tribes throughout Central Australia. There are many Elders in Alice Springs who I am grateful for, but those who I hold close to my heart are my mother Shirley Erlandson, my nana Doreen Erlandson, my great grandmother Jean Mack, Nana Veronica Lynch who taught me a lot about my culture, about leadership and most of all the love they gave to everyone around them.

‘I think it’s time to give thanks to all the Elders across Australia for all the hard work they have put into this nation to make it a better place for us to live today.’

At Tetra Tech International Development, our vision is to have strong and long-lasting relationships with Australian Indigenous communities. Through our Reconciliation Action Plan, we commit to ongoing learning, understanding, respect and integration of Indigenous knowledge.

Read about Participation and Livelihoods and Inclusion, Justice and Transformation services.


Program Management Consultant interning with Tetra Tech International Development Services

Related Articles

Industry briefing on Master Planning Services for the Colonial War Memorial (CWM) Hospital in Suva, Fiji
Diaspora Alumni Networks: Proven Impact
Women who are working for a more gender inclusive world
Skip to content