No two cultures are exactly alike in understanding or beliefs about spiritual matters, even within Christian traditions. There is also a diversity of views and customs among Indigenous peoples across Australia and New Zealand. But, for one First Nations perspective, we asked Dora Gibson, a Thuubi Warra woman from Hope Vale in Far North Queensland, for her thoughts about the spiritual side of life.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are traditionally very spiritual people and their connection with the land – with country – and how it was created is a big part of that. However, people of every ‘country’ within First Nations people are different, with different traditional customs and practices.

Even prior to Christianity coming into the community, there was a belief in the afterlife and the concept of a soul that lives on – in our Guugu Yimithirr language, we know the soul as Wa wu. There were dances that were about the spirits, too.

There was also a belief in a supreme being, a creator. When Christian missionaries came, we came to understand the supreme being as God.

Our animal totems connect us to the spirit world. For instance, if an elder passes, that particular animal shows itself through sound and image to let us know, and we have this intuition that our loved one has passed. Also, after a person passes, it is believed that when it rains soon after, the rain washes his or her footprints off this world.

We believe that when people die, parents or ancestors, they move to another realm. But sometimes they come back or stay and watch over you – they are like angels.

Dora Gibson is a retired teacher, a Hope Vale local commissioner with the Family Responsibilities Commission and an activity supervisor at the Hope Vale Community Activity Hub. She also runs cultural workshops and is a member of St John’s Lutheran Church Hope Vale.

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