BANOK RIND WISE WORDS
Much work is needed to close gaps in education, employment and health but the next generation also has strength to draw on within community, says the emerging Aboriginal leader.
I am a 23-year-old Yamatji-Badimia woman, originally from Western Australia, who now lives and works in Melbourne.
My story can be seen as one of success: I graduated with a nursing degree from RMIT University, I am a registered nurse and have a leadership role in the community as Deputy Executive Officer at the Koorie Youth Council.
For many years, though, I struggled with the education system and how I was perceived as an Indigenous person. Whilst my connection to my country and my mob was always strong and I have a supportive family, at school I wasn’t engaged and I wasn’t always interested in pursuing my studies.
My early years were spent between Geraldton and Perth. My cousins and I were the only Aboriginal people at school in the city. Historical acts, such as the Stolen Generations, were never taught to us. As young Aboriginal people we also faced racism at school, from other students and even, at times, from our teachers.
I remember one teacher in high school telling me that I wouldn’t finish school or amount to anything of worth. I also heard really hurtful words used to describe Aboriginal people. They were offensive words – I would not republish them here.
For a long time, I lacked confidence and never thought university study was an option for me. Why? It’s a whole lot of things. When it comes to Aboriginal people, the challenges we face have a strong social aspect and traumas that go back generations. Going to school in a white world then coming home and living in a black world has its own deep challenges.
Even when I started studying at RMIT, I had my difficulties. Around exam time in my first year at uni in Melbourne, there were two funerals being held in our community, including for one for my close uncle. But I couldn’t go back home to WA to attend them. It was stressful. I failed a subject that year.
I was fortunate, though, in that I was well supported in my second year of uni when I reached a point where I was seriously thinking about dropping out.
There was an Aunty who worked in the RMIT nursing department, Aunty Kerrie Doyle, who really helped me resolve my uncertainties. Aunty Kerrie was one of the first Aboriginal women to go to Oxford University. She persuaded me to stay at uni, and has continued to be an important mentor and role model to me.
To be honest, my experiences echo the experiences of other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. As part of my work, I go to schools now and talk to Indigenous youth. I’ve learnt that our kids still get called the same names I was called at school. Meanwhile, Aboriginal children are still being taken away from their families.
I do think teachers need better training to ensure all Indigenous students are well supported and feel culturally safe while undertaking education. However, that training needs to be monitored to ensure our kids are in the safest spaces.
There is also a big issue around employment discrimination for our communities. Indigenous people are definitely missing out on job opportunities they are qualified for, even in regional and remote areas, due to stereotypes and plainly wrong assumptions about our people, our culture and who we are as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
There is still lot of work to be done to close the gaps in key areas such as education, employment and health. But there is also a lot of strength within our communities. Our knowledge systems, our culture and our Aboriginal ways of doing things pave the way for us.
Times are changing. More of our young people are speaking up and stepping into leadership roles, although we always need to respect our cultural responsibilities and protocols when we do speak up, especially yarning with Elders first, in our approach to advocacy.
When I was asked to be a guest columnist for the Youth Unemployment Monitor, I felt honoured to be asked to share my story but it’s important for me to also show that the success I have achieved has not always been a clear pathway. I have struggled. This isn’t just my story but it is the story of many young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across our communities.
I think you need to show your vulnerability, otherwise you’re not really practising what you are preaching. We are still here, we are still proud and we stand strong.
You can follow Banok Rind via Twitter @banoky
Learn more about the work of the Koorie Youth Council at https://www.kgi.org.au/eventsactivities/koorie-youth-council/