Last month I was lucky enough to spend time with a group amazing Aboriginal people who manage some of the best organisations this country has to offer. The 12 organisations that made up this year’s 2012 Indigenous Governance Awards finalists travelled to Victoria from some remote parts of the country to attend the Awards presentation at BHP Billiton’s headquarters in Melbourne.
I spoke with some fantastic women including Andrea Mason, the Coordinator for the NPY Women’s Council,Yanyi Bandicha, Chairperson of the NPY Women’s Council and Susie Low, CEO of Walpiri Youth Development (formally the Mt Theo Program). After reading so much about the organisations these incredible women run, it was great to finally meet them and learn first-hand about how they have successfully managed a range of programs that support women, young people and their communities.
The NPY Women’s Council is one of Australia’s oldest and most respectful Aboriginal organisations. They run several programs, including the award winning Tjanpi Desert Weavers, that support women and their families living in 25 communities and homelands across the Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara (NPY) lands—an area that spans a vast 35,000 square kilometres across the NT, WA and SA. Warlpiri Youth Development was started by the Yuendumu Community in 1993 to address chronic petrol sniffing.
The organisation has successfully eliminated petrol sniffing in Yuendumu—long before the introduction of Opal fuel (non-sniffable petrol). Warlpiri now provides a comprehensive program of youth development and leadership, diversion, respite, rehabilitation, and aftercare throughout the Warlpiri region.
Susie, Andrea and Yanyi are all powerful, strong and dignified women who were proud to be selected in the final eight from a record pool of 107 high quality applicants. They were all also genuinely happy to have the opportunity to meet with like-minded people, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous—some of whom they had already formed close relationships through their community and advocacy work.
As well as getting to know these three remarkable women, I also had the chance to have a yarn with one of the cultural bosses from the Yiriman Project—Mr John Watson. The Yiriman Project is a suicide prevention initiative that works with Aboriginal communities and families in the south, central and west Kimberley regions.
The Elders have taken a ‘whole of community’ approach to support positive social change for young people living in the Kimberley. By taking young people (aged 12-30 years) on trips ‘back to country’, they’re helping young Aboriginal people to reconnect with their culture —and themselves. Participants also learn strategies to address problems such as substance abuse, self-harm and contact with the justice system. Yiriman’s programs have been so effective that West Australian Coroner Alastair Hope recommended the program be expanded Kimberley-wide, from three to all 30 language groups.
Mr Watson, who regularly takes young people on trips to country, is an inspiring man who has conquered his own battle with alcohol. He speaks passionately about the young men he has helped through the program—some of which are currently training in Melbourne to become qualified tradespeople before they return back to their communities.
“We’re seeing good results—young people are talking about Yiriman in the Kimberley and talking about how they can help young people get on board,” he said.
“We’re showing our young people their culture so it’s not forgotten. We’re handing these things down to the young people, they’re the last lot of people that we have left.”