• Isaiah Dawe has won TAFE NSW Student of the Year, and Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander of the Year awards (NITV News)Source: NITV News
Butchulla and Garawa man, Isaiah Dawe, has won the TAFE NSW Student of the Year and Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander of the Year awards.
By
Laura Morelli

13 Jun 2017 - 12:43 PM  UPDATED 13 Jun 2017 - 12:50 PM

Butchulla - of Fraser Island, Harvey Bay, Queensland and Garawa – of the Northern Territory, Isaiah has made history, becoming the first Indigenous person to ever win the TAFE NSW Student of the year award.

The 2017 TAFE NSW Student Excellence Awards were held last night and saw 200 students gather to celebrate the achievements of the year’s most outstanding graduates. There were 21 award winners recognised for their qualities of leadership, innovation and commitment to their industries.

The 23-year-old also managed to score Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander of the year award - a rising star amongst many other bright people.

“I was neglected, abused daily, physically, emotionally and mentally. I was stripped of my Aboriginal identity, my culture and my connection to family.” 

“I want to use this medal to inspire the young fullas of Redfern to pursue their dreams no matter the barriers or negative feedback,” Isaiah said.

Isaiah’s journey wasn’t easy. Taken from his family at just two months old and put into 17 different foster care homes until the age of 18-years-old.

“I was neglected, abused daily, physically, emotionally and mentally. I was stripped of my Aboriginal identity, my culture and my connection to family,” he said.

“Every day as I came home from school and put my bag down, I was told by my foster carers that I wouldn’t ‘amount to anything in this world,’ that I ‘wouldn’t be anybody in this world’ and that I was ‘worthless’ in this world.”

Isaiah says some people in institutionalised care brainwashed him to believe he was neglected and unwanted from his own family. Now after a long journey of finding himself and his identity, he knows that’s not true.

“Nan passed away worrying about us children. We were the only two to ever be taken away from the Butchulla mob,” he explained.

“Us as kids thought they never wanted to see us. We didn’t want anything to do with them because we were brainwashed to believe they didn’t care for us.”

It wasn’t until last year, where Isaiah’s course led him to the discovery of his Aboriginality, his connection to culture, country and most importantly, his family.

“The course I was enrolled in had one powerful requirement that changed my life:‘You have to know who you are as an Aboriginal person before you work with Aboriginal people in the community.’ So that’s where I began my journey of finding out about my identity.”

Utilising social media as a platform of networking, Isaiah connected with his aunties and uncles from all over the country on Facebook.

“I met my mother for the first time. Begging me for money on the streets one day as I was leaving work one evening.”

Despite a long list of impressive achievements, Isaiah wasn’t always thriving in the classroom. In fact he says he was ‘probably the most troubled’ boy in his High School.

“Growing up I had to repeat a year, I couldn’t read or write properly. My results were at an all-time low, not just in the class but the whole state,” he said.

"My behaviour was terrible, I was constantly sent to psychologists and put on medication for my aggression, but it was really just a normal reaction from the trauma.”

When Isaiah was just a little boy, he was given a photograph of his mother but he had never met her. Not until recently…

“I met my mother for the first time. Begging me for money on the streets one day as I was leaving work one evening.”

Isaiah takes a deep breath as he explains something important. “Most people hear my story and think ‘wow that’s so shit’ - but now with my achievements, I’m able to show there’s light to it… and give others hope too.”

Looking back at how far he has come, Isaiah says these people are definitely not living in his world.

The 23-year-old achieved a Certificate III in Vocational and Study Pathways through the Indigenous Police Recruitment Our Way Delivery Program (IPROWD). He also achieved an Award for excellence in discipline and Indigenous Studies known as the Redfern Aboriginal Community and Police together in Sport Award (RACAPTSIS). This recognised the extent to which Isaiah involved himself in the Clean Slate Without Prejudice Program and other youth initiatives supported by Tribal Warrior, Redfern Police and the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence.

Isaiah is applying the skills he’s learnt to mentor young and ‘at risk’ Aboriginal children. He is currently in the process of setting up his own community-based support organisation called ID know yourself. 

“It’s is a mentoring program for Indigenous kids in foster homes to help them reconnect to community, culture and identity. We want to prepare them for life after care. I’m using my own personal negative experiences for people to have positive ones – this is me giving back."

The youth ambassador for the Aboriginal Child, Family and Community Care State Secretariat (Absec) also volunteers at Tribal Warrior as a mentor for Aboriginal children to teach them discipline, routine and respect so youth avoid getting caught up in bad habits.

Isaiah recently returned from the National Indigenous Youth Parliament, where he and a group of young people focused on discussing mental health and the foster care system. Isaiah was able to discuss an out of home care plan and also share his story to help provide options for change in front of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition leader Bill Shorten as well as other Indigenous leaders.

Also awarded ‘the most positive influence’ by the Australian Electoral Commission, Isaiah has been selected as one of the 10 Indigenous representatives from Australia to attend an international leadership exchange in America.

“We’re going to work closely with Native American people who can show us what positive changes they’ve made for First Nations people in the US. I’ll be learning more about their culture whilst also teaching them a thing or two about mine, so it’s going to be a great collaboration.”

“People laugh when they talk about the First Indigenous Prime Minister to represent Australia, but you know what – someone’s gotta do it."

If you can’t already guess where this young man with big dreams wants to be in the future, then Isaiah will spell it out for you, loud and clear.

“You’ve got to have huge aspirations and goals in life. At the moment I want to complete my program and help change the foster care system. This will include a halfway house for Indigenous youth to stay - somewhere safe, somewhere stable,” he said.

“People laugh when they talk about the First Indigenous Prime Minister to represent Australia, but you know what – someone’s gotta do it, so if someone doesn’t get it in a few years’ time, then expect me to make history."

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