Last night, the 2017 Indigenous Human Rights Awards were held at Parliament House in Canberra.
I was lucky enough to attend.
It was an honour in itself to attend the awards as a representative from the Black Rainbow enterprise. For those of you who don’t know, Black Rainbow is the only Aboriginal support website for the LGBTQI community. Last year, it’s founder, Dameyon Bonson, was awarded the Dr Yunupingu Award for Human Rights for his work and achievements around Indigenous LGBTI Suicide.
What an incredible experience to be surrounded by so many of our mob doing very significant things, creating positive pathways for a fair Australia for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
"I felt really proud and inspired by each and every Aboriginal representative selected to be involved."
The National Indigenous Human Rights Awards recognises and celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have significantly contributed to the advancement of human rights and social justice in Australia.
Making the evening extra special, the 2017 Awards ceremony coincided with the 25th Anniversary of the Mabo decision in the High Court, which significantly established a fundamental truth and basis for justice for Indigenous Australian people.
I felt really proud and inspired by each and every Aboriginal representative selected to be involved. I felt a deep sense of connection to country, culture and community, as the nominees, award recipients and guest speakers were presented.
Hosted by journalist and author, Jeff McMullen, he took the opportunity to not only express his support for the Awards, but recognise people who have "given their lives to the struggle".
For me, the highlight of my night was the presentation of a Commemorative Plaque for the 25th Anniversary of the Mabo decision, which was presented to the Mabo family.
I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Aunty Bonita Mabo, wife of Eddie Mabo, who humbly said she was feeling "extremely surprised to be invited to Canberra for the occasion" and to be "presented with the plaque".
Mrs Mabo said her daughter Gail, and grandchildren will continue to advocate for the Mabo legacy to live on.
Award Nominees and Winners Profile
Anthony Mundine Courage Award: Presented by Anthony Mundine
Dr Meg Willis
Professor Chris Sarra
Winner: Professor Chris Sarra - For his work around Beating the challenges facing Indigenous Students in school – Created the “Stronger and Smarter” philosophy – Encouraging kids to be stronger in their cultural identity, and smarter by attending and excelling at school.
Dr Yunupingu Human Rights Award: Presented by Malarndirri McCarthy – “It’s about believing in the Impossible”
Mr Mark Wenitong
Professor Kerry Arabena
Winner: Mervyn Eades - For his work as a Human Rights Campaigner, transforming the lives of those in prison through mentoring, education and training. Mervyn accepted this award stating that “we need to lead our own destiny”
Eddie Mabo Social Justice Award: Presented by Gail Mabo - “Without Country, who are we?”
Dr Kim Isaacs
Gayili Marika Yunupingu
Winner: Gayili Marika Yunupingu - Who has been working extremely hard to raise awareness around Suicide Prevention and Indigenous social issues right across the Northern Territory including her home community, and wider Australia.
Deadly Indigenous Inspirations
Being at an event surrounded by such inspiring Indigenous people from all walks of life was empowering. I wouldn’t usually approach these kinds of people but something pushed me to get out of my comfort zone and have a yarn with people that have made history.
I had a chat with Gayili Marika Yunupingu after she had been presented with her award. Ms Yunupingu said she felt extremely overwhelmed to be recognised.
“It was frightening, I wasn't expecting to win” Ms Yunupingu said.
“It was something I very much honour. I could feel the spirit of our heroes here present with us." Aunty Bonita Mabo said she was very proud of Ms Yunupingu’s achievements.
I also spoke to Award Nominee Joe Williams after the ceremony. Joe discussed being nominated and his highlight from the night.
"Out of the 12 biographies that were read, each and every one of those people could have easily been winners. I was just extremely humbled to be a finalist here amongst some fantastic people. For me, it's not about trophies, it's about the work that I do and that's suicide prevention and mental health," he said.
“The highlight for me without a doubt was to hug and kiss and get a photo with Aunty Bonita Mabo. I sat down in my lounge room at around the age of 11, and I was watching the Eddie Mabo story. A lot of people were commenting on the resilience and how strong of a man he was, and they were right. But it was the amount of support and love that Aunty Bonita gave him throughout those years that I found absolutely amazing.”
"The best part of tonight has been the sense of strength and solidarity, that as First Nations people we are resilient and no matter our ups and downs, we stay strong and we stay together."
My proudest moment was working up the courage to speak with keynote speaker, Malarndirri McCarthy. Coming from humble beginnings, and growing up in a remote town in the Northern Territory, I am proud to say that Malarndirri McCarthy is one of my biggest idols in life.
I’m so inspired by her and have so much love and respect for everything she stands for and her willingness and strength to stand up for her beliefs.
Malarndirri commented that the 2017 awards “were the remembrance of a remarkable man,” referring to Eddie Mabo.
"The best part of tonight has been the sense of strength and solidarity, that as First Nations people we are resilient and no matter our ups and downs, we stay strong and we stay together".
All in all, an unbelievable deadly experience and a huge congratulations to all nominees, award winners, as well as Shaoquett Moselmane MLC and his team, for putting the awards together and giving our people a voice and recognition.
Now, let’s take the next steps…