VIEW: First Nations cultures around the world have some of the greatest solutions to current First World problems – Shantelle Thompson

Shantelle is a warrior, but not the way you might think. She believes being a warrior is about protecting and helping others, and should have nothing to do with fighting or taking someone’s life.

As well as being a healer, leader, storyteller, keynote speaker and health and wellbeing ambassador on the topic of ‘Warrior Within’, Shantelle is also a three-times Jiu-Jitsu world champion and is now preparing to qualify for a spot on the Australian wrestling team for the 2022 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games.

  • You’re passionate about the concept of the ‘Warrior Within’ – what does this mean to you?

As a Barkindji woman, culture is a journey that needs to be walked in the 21st century. Trying to find a way to balance opportunities to learn my culture and gain back what I missed out on growing up; to be able to become a knowledge holder and teacher for my own children; balancing western life, my own values, dreams; raising my families and making a living is very challenging and at times feels almost impossible.

But one thing I have come to understand about life is that we make time for what is important to us, no matter how difficult. My Songlines (cultural heritage) and knowing their lyrics and passing them onto my kids means more to me than air at times.

Uncle Mark Rose a community Elder I met during a leadership course in 2019 speaks about living your “Ancestral Mandate”. In a western concept this might be finding your purpose or your ‘why’.

In Uncle Mark’s words, “As Blackfellas, we are connected to a lineage that is 60,000 years old and our ancestors are always with us. Through this connection we have an inherited responsibility to find our way, our purpose, our role in this life, to do our best and become our best in honour of our ancestors and culture. And in service of this life and for the generations to come. It is not just life as we want it to be, but also about ‘how’ life happens to us. The gift of the moment is the lesson we are meant to learn and through this learning we find ourselves and our path. Our experience and what we learn becomes the wisdom to navigate the path ahead… But it is only when we make space for stillness that we can begin to connect and hear the whispers of the ancestors if we have the courage to listen.”

As Steve Jobs said, “It is only upon looking back that we can connect the dots.” Over the last few years, I have been asking myself, “Why am I this person? How did I get here and become this person?”

Because I feel that what I have achieved so far is only scratching the surface of the potential I have as a person in this lifetime. Everything I have done up to this point has been on autopilot, responding to life in the moment and almost following on an unconscious level. I now want to know what a life by conscious heartfelt design looks like. And it is through asking these questions that guided me to Uncle Mark and his concept of the Ancestral Mandate and having the courage to ask the questions and sit still long enough for the ancestors to guide me to answer. What is my Ancestral Mandate?

It is through this process and of mindful reflection on my life journey to date, and what fires my heart and spirit now that the answer of who I am and how I can serve the world has come through. I have always had the Warrior Spirit and been guided from within on an unconscious level and now I bring that from the shadows into the light and live by conscious design and ancestral guidance. My purpose is to bring the ‘Warrior Within’ into this world and help others to find theirs in service of the world.

  • Why is ‘Warrior Within’ relevant today and how should people be approaching this?

For me the Warrior has always been activated by serving others, protecting the vulnerable, taking out the evil, breaking down the barriers that stops us from reaching our potential or the next level, helping those who are able and willing to find their potential and using the Warrior within to walk their journey of truth from the heart without apology.

In order to serve others to the best of our capacity we must also serve the self. This is how the Warrior Within was born, in order to be a warrior to serve others and the world. I need to lead by example and be that person for myself first in order to be that for others.

It is about doing the best you can, with what you have, from were you are and who you are. If each of us strives to do our best each day and be our best in the space and the world as it is, rather than how we want it to be, whilst also working towards the world/life we envision in our hearts, we create ripples effects of this for others and slowly the world changes.

Being a Warrior does not mean killing people or fighting in a war in the way people might imagine. The best definition of what it means to be a modern-day Warrior is the following:

“The Warrior is not someone who fights, for no one has the right to take another life. The warrior, for us, is the one who sacrifices themselves for the good of others. Their task is to take care of the elderly, the defenceless, those who cannot provide for themselves, and above all, the children, the future of humanity” – Sitting Bull, Chief of the Lakota Nation.

For me, being a Warrior means to be in service of others, to be and lead from the heart, live courageously and dare greatly. The ‘Warrior Within’ concept means understanding who you are in your heart of hearts, in your truest self and having the courage to know intimately your shadows and hurt and walk with your light boldly and unapologetically. How we lead ourselves, is how we also lead others. Who we are as individuals has ripple effects to those we are connected with, and the energy we walk with radiates out into the world.

In our current climate, this is more important than ever because so many things are happening that are beyond our control. The only thing we have control of is how we respond and the next steps we can choose to take. I believe people need to take the time that we have been gifted (forced upon us) to reflect on our life before this season.

What opportunities face us now? Are we being in our lives who we want to be and doing our best? What lies in our heart of hearts? What dreams whisper there?

By taking the time to understand yourself, build your self-awareness and we can better connect, nurture and manage the self to manage the shit in our lives and show up in progress in the areas that matter or are a priority right now.

How you can begin this journey:

  • Taking space to ask yourself the questions and making space to answer them, either through journaling or talking to someone you trust
  • Reflecting on your life journey to date
  • Making space to dream
  • We’re at a time in history where so much feels out of our control, and it can be disorienting. What’s your advice to others feeling this way right now?

We are in a time that 80% of Western population of the world has never lived through. Other parts of the world have been through this and humanity has experienced this before. Remember humans created the economy and the current way of life. We will recover and create a new way of being after this season.

For me, it is about accepting things as they are, rather then how we want to them to be. Whilst also still holding a vision for how we want things to be and working towards this vision and accepting the reality for what it is.

It is about stages – the first stage is acknowledgement, second stage is acceptance and looking at what needs to be done third is breathing space and beginning to look at what we want to set up now and what opportunities are available to us, so that once we come through this we are ready for the next chapter.

We are often told to pursue our passions, find what you love and do that etc. There is also what lies in the ego/heart of what people want in life. And then sometimes life smacks you in the face and all of that goes out the window.

The current situation is beyond our control, but we can control the choices we make in the moment about how we respond by asking ourselves, “What is within my control in this moment?”, making space to sit down and identify the ‘non-negotiables’ for you in this moment. What are the things you HAVE to get done to survive this period? Your bottom line.

For me those things include how am I going to manage my wellbeing and health during this time – emotional, spiritual, physical and mental, so I can show up for myself and those I am responsible for and care for. What I need to do to manage financially to keep a roof over my head and food on the table during this season. This is a part of real, deep self care. Deep self-care is more than meditating and doing what feels good, though this is important. It is also about doing what we know we need to do in order to create a space to live our lives from thriving not fear.

Once I have spent time identifying these things and putting them into place, I can then take a deep breath, take some time to identify and feel my emotions. But don’t let me take over, if we repress our emotions eventually they will take over. They need acknowledgment and validation but not control of us. Once we feel them, we can then work out a way to manage our emotions and begin to take steps to manage the shit in our lives whilst still showing up on our terms and making progress. Once our foundation is solid and we once again have some sense of security and safety. We can take a breath and begin to allow ourselves to dream a little about what we would like in our lives alongside the necessary and foundational. Then comes the acceptance of this as the processs whilst we wait for the knowledge of when the next chapter may become available to us.  

  • What tools or advice do you have for people wanting to build resilience for potentially difficult times ahead?

To be resilient alone is not enough. We need more than the ability to be able to bounce back.The difficult times ahead are calling for courage, grit and resilience.

Courage being the ability to accept our fears and take action anyway. Brene Brown defines courage as having the ability to speak the truth in our hearts. And in these unprecedented times, we need to live, love and lead from the heart. Not from fear or ego.

Grit means you have the courage and strength of character to follow through. A person with true grit shows passion and perseverance. Goals are set and followed through – a person who works really hard to follow through on commitments and is able to navigate challenges and has the ability and capacity to be agile and adaptable during moments of change.

I believe these are skills that can be learnt. We can build these skills by;

  • Seeking help from a mentor/coach during these times
  • Reading books about Resilience, Grit, Courage –
    • Brene Brown is an amazing place to start
    • Author Jim Kwik has some amazing resources     
  • Finding online courses in personal development
  • Finding someone to learn from that you connect with and believe has these qualities. For me some of these people are
    • My kids
    • My culture
    • People like Nelson Mandela, Dwayne Johnson, Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou
    • Learn and develop a Growth Mindset
  • In your view, what can we learn from First Nations culture about addressing and further preventing some of the first world challenges we are facing today?

I am no expert and can only speak from the heart and the lived experience of my 36 years. I have a lot to learn. Yet these words I write feel like the truth in my heart and experience of the world at the moment. A world polarised and fragmented.

First Nations cultures around the world have some of the greatest solutions to current First World problems. Aboriginal Australian culture is the oldest living culture in the world, yet we are still fighting to protect sacred sites, to have our voices heard, our history and truth told and accepted, and our culture valued, respected and celebrated.  Despite 230+ years of Colonisation – a continuing process – we are still here, our culture is alive and being practiced today.

Our culture is a collective culture not individualistic. I believe this is the greatest lesson and strength our culture has to give to the world. Current issues of sustainability, consumerism, greed, climate change, mental health and more are symptoms of Western Culture driven by rampant greed, rising individualism, short-term focus, fear, ego, consumerism and capitalism.

In our culture we are taught that we are custodians of the land, not owners. Only take what you need and leave the rest. Look after the land and it will look after you. It is the strong and able persons’ responsibility to care for the vulnerable and less able. We each have our role to play.

We value our Elders and seek to learn from their lived experience and wisdom. Not lock them up and throw away the key like they have an expiry date. We did not have mental health illness because we had cultural practices that allowed us to sit with emotions, allowing time for scars to be healed. To learn from the experience, not be defined by it. And we never had wars because we operated from a place of shared respect, a place of enoughness and knowing our place in the world and this life.

I believe there is an untapped potential and richness to First Nations culture, knowledge and ways of being that can deeply serve the world now and into the future. If only people are willing to learn and come together with open hearts and minds for the benefit of the current world and the world our future generations will inherit from us and the choices we make and the actions we take today.


About the expert

Shantelle Thompson is a strong and proud Barkindji/European woman, who is also known as the Barkindji Warrior (or to those close to her Wonder Woman). She is the proud mother of 3 children including twins. Shantelle grew up in Dareton, NSW and is still strongly connected to her country and the community of Sunraysia.

Shantelle’s vision is to inspire and empower people to understand their power to overcome adversity and hardship, to move from surviving in life to being the creator of their own life. Her fight is to challenge the boundaries, smash the stereotypes and change the narrative that surrounds what it means to be Aboriginal, a woman from a diverse and marginalised background and a mother in Australia and the world today.