Twenty-six aspiring leaders are in Canberra this week to develop their skills to become leaders in their communities, and follow in the footsteps of remarkable pioneers who have gone before them.
13 Sep 2017 - 6:30 PM  UPDATED 14 Sep 2017 - 9:24 AM

When Injinoo woman Michelle Tamwoy first started her career in education as a 19-year-old, she wanted to be the first black principal.

"But I then went away, deferred college, got married and had my babies. I sort of put that aside, and I know now that's never gonna happen, but it doesn't mean I can't be a leader of change," she told NITV News.

Ms Tamwoy is one of twenty-six aspiring leaders taking part in a national leadership program in Canberra. 

She travelled from her remote community, on the tip of Cape York in north Queensland, to participate. 

"I need to challenge myself and get myself out of my comfort zone and by doing that I can be an example for any other person who wants to give it a go," she said.   

The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leaders Program, NATSILP, provides participants with the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of remarkable Indigenous leaders, honour their stories and support their own leadership aspirations. 

NATSILP Director, Scott Gorringe, says participants are able to connect with pioneers of the past. 

"They connect with the leadership capacity of our past, and remember and learn from their stories," he told NITV News. 

"[We] have come together in Canberra to further develop their understanding of themselves as leaders.”

The leaders had already completed a session in Shepparton and Cairns.

“The participants have recognised the contribution of Sir Douglas Nicholls in Shepparton and Pat O’Shane in Cairns. Connecting with their families and country makes this program unique and life-changing.”

The participants will continue to recognise and meet diverse and influential Indigenous leaders throughout Canberra this week, before graduating on Thursday night.

Gugu-Badhun and Ndgjan-ji man, Benjamin Gertz, says now is the best time for Indigenous leaders to step up.  

"In every community, there are Indigenous leaders but you often don't hear of who they are, and this group is a good example of how invisible, how leaders can sometimes be," he told NITV News.

"It's a great time for Indigenous leadership because there is more of it, they're encouraging more people like myself to get involved in various spaces, not just one or two different things." 

Anita Wharton, from Cunnamulla in south-west Queensland, says her grandfather inspired her to apply. 

"He was a founding member of the Cunnamulla Aboriginal Corporation for Health, he served on the National Native Title Tribunal as well as the ATSIC Board. He is my inspiration," she said.

She hopes the program can improve her commitment to her community. 

"Some of the major challenges in Cunnamulla is the community working together, so I would like to see the community work together for a better outcome for everyone in the community." 

Wajarri-Nunda Yamatji man from Western Australia, Dwayne Mallard, says the program has been challenging but worthwhile. 

"What I've learnt from these amazing leaders this week is that the fundamental bedrock of leadership is self-development, self-care and self-support. So me being strong within myself helps me be strong for my community," he said. 

Scott Gorringe says it's an honour to see the participants come through the program.

"The challenges that these fellas are facing, most of it is within them and we're enabling a really safe place for them to be able to play there for a little way and to explore what's going on for themselves," he said.  

"We hope that then leads to greater things." 

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