What is Sorry Business?

Nungamanladi! There’s a stereotype that all Aboriginal people are related – and as Aunty Munya often remarks, this one’s true! 

Thanks to the complex concept of family kinship within Aboriginal culture, any one person can have many mothers, fathers, grandfathers and grandmothers, and so on. 

Of course, there are certain obligations associated with these family relationships – and some that can cause confusion in the workplace, like Sorry Business and events like National Sorry Day

Aunty Munya explains how you might encounter Sorry Business in your workplace below, and then read on to learn more about bereavement in Aboriginal culture.

Understanding Bereavement in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Culture

Death and loss affect us all in different ways, and while local Indigenous tribes, clans, and communities may follow contrasting traditions and rituals, many aspects of mourning and grief look somewhat different from conventions followed in Western society.

Taking the time to learn and acknowledge Sorry Business–the obligations, responsibilities and traditions Aboriginal people follow after death of family members and loved ones–can avoid a great depth of misunderstanding and provide an environment of support and comfort during a difficult time. 

How Do I Accommodate Sorry Business in the Workplace?

The best advice for employers keen to support their workforces and foster an inclusive, compassionate, and empathetic workplace is to consider how colleagues can request cultural leave and the policies or guidelines that business managers and decision-makers follow. Offering staff a fixed period of compassionate leave structured around the conventions of bereavement held throughout the Western world may not allow Aboriginal and First Nations people the space, time, or flexibility to grieve a loss, fulfil their Sorry Business obligations to a loved one, or participate in sacred ceremonies, commemorations, and rituals.

Simple steps such as expanding the view of ‘family’ to incorporate the broader kinship structure within Indigenous communities and enabling employees to request bereavement leave for several days either in sequence or throughout a week or two may transition a restricted policy into one that better supports the needs of Aboriginal people when they are in mourning for their kinship, community, and families. Cultural awareness training coupled with listening and consulting with employees from diverse backgrounds, cultures, faiths, and belief systems may provide further opportunities to evolve compassionate leave systems to be more inclusive.

What Protocols Apply to Sorry Business?s

Knowing how to respond and show empathy and kindness to a person grieving a loss and completing Sorry Business can be complex, particularly if the person’s culture, beliefs or faith differs from yours. Many Indigenous people believe that speaking the name of the deceased or showing their photo can prevent the spirit from transitioning to the next world.

While there is always room for compassion, it is wise to avoid mentioning the name of the person who had passed or to ask about the death of a loved one uninvited to avoid causing distress.

How Long Does Sorry Business Last?

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people do not follow a perceived period of Sorry Business, and mourning may continue for weeks or months beyond the funeral itself. As with all aspects of supporting employees experiencing Sorry Business, loss and sadness, providing a platform to express their needs openly is best practice while acknowledging that grief may not follow a set pattern or time period.

What Are Sorry Cuts in Aboriginal Culture?

Some Indigenous communities practise sorry cuts, which can involve deliberately making small cuts to symbolise the release of pain. Other Sorry Business practices can include cutting hair and using a white pigment on their faces, often during smoking ceremonies to clear the home or possessions of the person who has passed–assisting the spirit as it transitions onward.

These Sorry Business rituals are sacrosanct, and questioning or challenging sorry cuts, even out of misplaced health concern, may be considered deeply disrespectful–making it essential that employers, colleagues, and community members access educational resources to avoid misinterpretation.

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