For First Nations people, overcoming grief is a unique and complex process. It seeks to ensure that as a community we can move past death and commemorate those we have lost with consideration and celebration.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies are based around the concept of community rather than the individual. This means that an experience of loss impacts whole communities just as much as the individuals within them.
Out on community when someone passes away, the whole community comes together to share that sorrow through a process called Sorry Business. Sorry Business is a period of cultural practices that take place after someone's death.
Sorry Business includes ceremonies held around the bereavement and/or funerals for a deceased person. Sorry Business may also be conducted to mark the experience of grief or loss in other circumstances. An example of this would be mourning the loss of land or land degradation, such as when a Native Title application is abandoned and so our connection to Country goes unrecognised. Some communities feel the loss of connection to culture or land as painfully as they would feel the loss of a person. This shows the deep connection our communities have with the land.
Funerals are held after an extended period of ceremony which can last days, weeks, or even months. A person's obligations to participate in these ceremonies (or Sorry Business) is determined by the status of the deceased person and an individual's kinship relation to them.
First Nations kinship systems ensure every person is connected with others and supported. Kinship is a complex system that determines how people relate to each other. It also shapes a person's roles, responsibilities and obligations to other people, animals, ceremony and land. For many First Nations people, the kinship system is the foundation of our obligations to family, our role in ceremony, our relationship to the environment and can even shape who you can and cannot marry. This complex social structure maintains connection within the community. So whenever an individual passes away, everyone will mourn their death.
It is very important to recognise that for many communities, the expectation is that funerals will involve the whole community. Not just family and close friends as is common in some non-Indigenous communities. In some First Nations communities, a period of Sorry Business prohibits other events, meetings or consultations from happening. This must be respected by all people working with land councils, First Nations people and organisations.