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We should measure our success by our healing and not our promotions

I am a Badimia Yamatji/Wadjak Ballardong Nyoongah woman. My homelands are around what is now known as Paynes Find. I grew up in Wadjak Country and while far from my Badimia home I have always been a frequent visitor back to country. I carry with me the spirit of my Nyoongah and Yamatji ancestors wherever I go.

I have spent my working life in and around the domain of ‘Aboriginal Affairs’ in areas such as education, employment, justice, state and Commonwealth Aboriginal affairs including policy, town reserve management, town patrols and local area coordination. I found myself at The Smith Family after over 20 years in the Australian and state government Public Service. This move also placed me squarely back in the community where I had grown up and spent much of my childhood. I know and love this community and felt I could work here and have a positive effect on and in my Aboriginal and the wider community.

Despite the perception of relative ‘success’ I struggled to deal with and manage the trauma that has impacted my life. Like many of my Countrymen and women across the Aboriginal nations my story is scarily familiar in its similarities.  Childhood trauma, grief and loss, family violence, addictions, homelessness, separation from country and legal/justice issues all featured predominantly on my horizon. I lived a life ducking and weaving this blight on my landscape. Chipping away at the edges of all these ‘issues’ but never really getting to the core.

And then I reached a point in my life. A point where I knew to move forward personally and to be of a greater impact in and for my community I needed to be unimpeded by this baggage. It was heavy and weighing me down. A chance meeting between myself and a long-term ally and supporter of Aboriginal people lead to the development of an informal mentoring relationship.  This mentor encouraged me to be more, do more and say more.  My mentor also regularly consulted with me and introduced me as an emerging leader. This narrative started to change the way I viewed myself. Maybe I was a leader. But who is a leader, how do you become one? Did I have the skills and aptitude?  In my community, the journey to leadership is a much different process to that of the wider community.  I did not want to be seen as trying to jump the queue or stepping forward into an area where I wasn’t entitled to be. And if I’m being called a leader, maybe it’s time to step up.

I saw a cousin and countrywoman describe their leadership journey with Yorga Djenna Bidi (YDB) and the Western Australian Aboriginal Leadership Institute (WAALI). I knew I needed to find out more.

The Yorga Djenna Bidi Aboriginal Women’s Leadership Program is designed for Aboriginal women. It involves leadership development over a five month period.  The best of successful group leadership programs and best practice leadership modules have been used in the development of the course.  Cultural content and context is interwoven through the program design and delivery. Elders are an integral part of the program and are very involved in program delivery.  Having the Elders involved and being connected to Elders within our communities has given me and my fellow graduates’ tacit approval to start our leadership journeys. YDB also acknowledges that as Aboriginal women we may have unhealed trauma and as leaders we may be unable to be effective in our chosen paths if we are continually triggered by this. In what is a culturally competent and safe environment we are lead through the beginnings of a healing process in which we’re supported and encouraged to finish.

At the end of our program and as a condition of graduation we were asked to write a two minute speech which we were to deliver in front of the Western Australian Governor, our Elders, invited guests and the rest of our graduating cohort. In my speech I recognised the significance of birth all around me. My great grandmother birthed no less than 23 children on Badimia country, I work with two amazing communities of mothers who are due to give birth or who have birthed children and are into their parenting journey. I graduated during Kambarang the Nyoongah season of birth, we graduated not far from a significant birthing site for Wadjak women but also our creator the Waggyl and my leadership journey itself took about 270 days, near the average for human to develop from conception to birth. It’s no surprise then that I consider graduating the Yorga Djenna Bidi program has been akin to my re-birth.

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