Celebrate NAIDOC Week 2018 by getting to know, and learning from, some of Australia’s most inspiring Indigenous women.
Each and every year, Australia celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples throughout NAIDOC Week. The theme for this year’s celebration is ‘Because of her, we can’, and focuses on the essential role that women have played, and continue to play, across all aspects of society.
We got in touch with a handful of Indigenous women who inspire us, and who are working tirelessly towards a better Australia, and asked them a few questions about themselves, about what they’ve learned, and about how we – as a country – can do more for our women and Indigenous people.
Meet Dr. Jessa Rogers, director of Indigenous Education and Research Strategy at the University of New England.
In your own words, can you tell us a little about where you’re from, who you are, and what you do?
I am a Wiradjuri woman, my family are from Cootamundra and the surrounding region in New South Wales. I was born on Ngunnawal Country in Canberra and am currently directing the Indigenous Education and Research strategy here in Armidale, NSW, at the University of New England (UNE). Our local people are the Anaiwan people.
What have you learned from the women in your life? In what ways have they – whether directly or indirectly – helped you?
I always think of our family matriarch – I am the fourth Aboriginal generation in my family, yet I am the first to be raised with my own mother. Having removals and adoptions throughout the last three generations has impacted my family deeply.
As a mother, I know the place I hold in my two sons' lives, and I look to Aunties in my life to model and guide my leadership. Aunty Anne Martin and Aunty Kaye Price are two women who hold a special place in my heart and have deeply impacted my journey through their personal guidance, strength and dedication.
If you could give some advice to your younger self – about life, work, success, setbacks – what would you say?
Take your time – there is no rush. Make mistakes and learn from them. Don't fear the future or look back too much, focus on the good you can achieve in the present, and have strength and courage when things feel tough. You are truly stronger than you know.
What has your career taught you, so far, about leadership, leadership qualities, and the difference between good and bad leadership?
A leader is someone who has people who follow. That is a difficult idea for me, as I believe firmly in both leading from behind, and leading by example – ‘walking the talk’. Unfortunately, there are many self-appointed or otherwise appointed ‘leaders’ who are focused on their own promotion and not what is happening at the ground level.
Good leadership is reflected in positive change and in the people who are affected most – those doing the grunt work. I do believe that long after the work is done, those you lead will remember not what you said, but how you made them feel. It is that personal leadership that makes leadership positions both so difficult and so rewarding.
In terms of recognising Indigenous people and culture in a real, tangible and meaningful way, Australia has a long way to go. Where do we go from here?
‘Nothing about us, without us’ needs to change to: ‘Nothing about us that is not led by us’. There is no excuse for non-Indigenous people to be leading Indigenous initiatives or leading Indigenous studies, research or policy.
We are here. There are so many Indigenous people who are ready, willing and superbly qualified and experienced waiting for non-Indigenous people to step aside and make room for us to lead that which affects us. That is self-determination in action. That is reconciliation.
Non-Indigenous people giving up power to make space for Indigenous leadership will create the change that non-Indigenous Indigenous policymakers and leaders have failed to make. Our communities have the solutions.