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 Belinda Duarte, CEO of Culture is Life, an organisation that supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led solutions and aims to prevent youth suicide through connection to culture.
Belinda – can you tell us a little about where you’re from, who you are, and what you do?
I was born and raised in Ballarat on WaddaWurrung country but my country is Wotjobaluk, matriarchally. I also have kin connections to Dja Dja Wurrung with Celtic and Polish heritage as well.
I’m passionate about ensuring our young people thrive and that the broader Australian community are inspired by our First Australians and our countries’ cultural lineage, and in making sure it’s valued, expressed and reflected in our daily lives.
In what ways have the women in your life helped you, whether directly or indirectly, on your journey up to this point?
Firstly, my mum is fundamentally the reason for my Aboriginally and has instilled a strong sense of family and connection to who we are through her own lived experiences, despite growing up in an orphanage. She has been critical in influencing my choice to work in this space – I want to be a part of transforming how we’re seen and understood.
I also want to acknowledge the journeys of the Aboriginal women before me, in my grandmother and great grandmother. Through their own journeys, they influenced my mum, and therefore me. In knowing and discovering more about their story it makes me even more committed to creating change for the better – in my generation and those to come.
Thinking about the love, support and inspiration I receive from my sisters also helps me through life and reminds me that I’m loved, no matter what. My little girl, Jasmine, is a fundamental driver of my why in life – and she deserves to experience something different, and not be faced with the same statistical experiences our people currently face.
How important is it for future generations of Indigenous women to have strong role models to aspire to and be inspired by?
‘Role model’ is an interesting description. At times it sets up a potential view of the need for perfection or achieving certain things. I see it differently. We have so many beautiful, strong and intelligent women throughout our communities. They inspire us all in different ways and have a common thread of resilience, and that innate ability to keep going no matter what challenges they face.
As for getting women into places they deserve, that’s a significant question. Our community and workplaces are a reflection of where our country is at. Key leaders and people in decision making roles need to ensure opportunities are created and provided to our women.
I know in Victoria our Aboriginal single mums are the most disadvantaged when it comes to employment, and that’s not OK. We need to place the resources and decision making in the hands of Aboriginal people and organisations to change this. We also need more Aboriginal people – and women – on boards across sectors to provide the knowledge, insights and directives to organisations that currently lack the capacity to change the experiences of these women.