Indigenous people find solutions within themselves Reply

Shane Phillips Photograph: National Centre for Indigenous Excellence

Shane Phillips
Photograph: National Centre for Indigenous Excellence

by Elaine Duan Ye

“Here we are at Sydney University, speaking not about deficits but success, about the achievements of our people,” said Shane Phillips, Chief Executive Officer of the Tribal Warrior Association, who gave the Dr Charles Perkins AO Annual Memorial Oration, entitled ‘Youth in Our Community’, at the University on 17 October

In his speech, Mr Phillips emphasised the occasion was an opportunity to celebrate what Indigenous people can do, what they have done. “Looking back at our grandparents, we saw how hard they worked, we saw them struggling for almost nothing but they made sure we were fed and they made sure we were proud of who we were as people. And we are proud of them.”

The Oration was launched in 2001 by the University of Sydney in collaboration with the Koori Centre to commemorate the life-long achievements of Dr Perkins, the first Indigenous Australian graduate of The University of Sydney.  Each year, a leading spokesperson within the field of Indigenous and non-Indigenous race relations is invited to give the Oration.

Mr Phillips talked about the importance of fostering respect and responsibility among young Indigenous people and pointed to the success of the Tribal Warrior. He said that since its inception in 1998, the Tribal Warrior Association had trained “thousands” of young people as crew members on the Tribal Warrior ketch.

“At the present moment, many guys and a lot girls are offshore working with shipping companies. They are working for captains all over the place.” He said that was a simple truth and one that should be told to young people all the time, not only to Indigenous people but to all Australians. 

The Tribal Warrior Association was established by concerned Aboriginals to promote Aboriginal culture, and to provide economic and social stability. It offers quality training for employment skills, to train Aboriginal people to gain the Master Class V commercial maritime certificate and other qualifications including Radar certificate, and Marine Engineer certificate.

The training program on the Tribal Warrior is targeted at Aboriginal people, especially those of low income and with limited formal education although non-Indigenous Australians, Torres Strait Islanders and foreign students may also be included in order to foster reconciliation and understanding between cultures.

Mr Phillips said Indigenous people need to be involved in change, that “solutions have to come from within”. He said he has devoted himself to the job. “I work hard every day for them. We know we are not changing the world; we don’ have a solution for everything, but we know something we do have – we have a belief that we can make a difference, and each of us is valued.”

Dr Charles Perkins Photograph: Courtesy of the Perkins family and the Charlie Perkins Trust for Children & Students, and photographer Robert McFarlane 1963

Dr Charles Perkins
Photograph: Courtesy of the Perkins family and the Charlie Perkins Trust for Children & Students, and photographer Robert McFarlane 1963

Mr Phillips also praised “Uncle Charles” (Perkins) and other Indigenous people who he said “have done all the hard work”, people who had jobs of work in every industry. “They were the raw models, they set the pathways to change,” he said. 

He said Aboriginal people have seen change in the past, and they are seeing change now, and they are growing with it. “There are hundreds of Aboriginal doctors, Aboriginal poets, Aboriginal lawyers, great Aboriginal artists and Aboriginal business people, builders and academics.” 

Mr Phillips suggested that everyone should focus at the great things Aboriginal people have done, and look at the positives, and doing so, play a role in sustaining Indigenous people as great people.

At the end of the evening, the Dr Charles Perkins AO Memorial Prize was awarded to three Indigenous students who completed a Bachelor or Honours degree with outstanding results. The 2013 winners are: Todd Rowling, Bachelor of Engineering (Honours); Janelle Evans, Bachelor of Visual Arts (Honours); and Emma Hicks, Bachelor of Visual Arts (Honours). 

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