We are the change: Indigenous women demand to be heard

·3-min read

For the young Indigenous women attending the Wiyi Yani U Thangani summit in Canberra, having the opportunity to yarn with each other in person has been inspiring.

The chance to dig deep into issues important to them meant the young women could discuss difficult topics including violence, deaths in custody and suicide.

Semara Jose from Deadly Inspiring Youth Doing Good (DIYDG) facilitated the youth program.

"It was powerful to see more than 100 strong young black women just exude excellence," she told AAP.

"We had some really in-depth conversations.

"We had time to unpack what their vision and their hope is for the future but also for them to feel like they had the ability to connect with each other."

Some 900 First Nations women have travelled from across the country to the nation's capital for the Wiyi Yani U Thangani summit, which means 'women's voices' in Bunuba language spoken by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar.

The summit's theme is 'We are the change' and the young women participating embodied that message.

Ms Jose chaired a panel with three emerging leaders, Tonii Wajayi Skeen, Samara Fernandez-Brown and Leah House, on how young Indigenous women are paving the way ahead on their own terms.

Ms Fernandez-Brown, a Warlpiri woman from Yuendumu, shared how she had been thrust into the spotlight when her cousin Kumanjayi Walker was shot and killed by police in 2019.

She said her elders had entrusted her to speak for the community but that during the murder trial of Constable Zachary Rolfe, what she was able to say had been restricted by legal considerations.

"Coming into the inquest (into Kumanjayi Walker's death) my biggest goal was to make sure we were sharing our truth and our story and make sure we were humanising Kumanjayi as a loved one, a community member and someone who is missed," Ms Fernandez-Brown said.

"For my family and community it was really hard to be vulnerable and to share our pain and our struggle.

"But they trusted me with that."

Ms House, a Ngambri Ngunnawal woman from Canberra, said her work with survivors of violence builds on what she learned from her elders.

"We are here on the backs of legends," she said.

"I look at my elders who I am so privileged to spend time with, they inspire me.

"I just hope that when we get to their age, we're going to have younger mob saying that about our generation."

Ms Fernandez-Brown, who is involved with the Djawa Foundation which supports Indigenous families who have lost a loved one in custody, had a message for other young people.

"Know what you're fighting for and know what you're aiming for - because if you don't have that you're moving a whole bunch of nowhere," she said.

"I think you need to be relentless in where you want to get to.

"In my case I want to stop black deaths in custody - and that's a hard battle."

Ms Jose said there had been huge diversity of opinion during the youth program.

"Not everyone agreed on the same things but what they all did was stand beside each other, make space for each other and honour each other's truths," she said.

"Nannas, aunties, sisters, when we give young people a seat at the table, they have the ability to be able to shape something new."

The summit will wrap up on Thursday, following a keynote address by historian and advocate Jackie Huggins and closing remarks from Ms Oscar.