Hearing the young voices that can create change for justice

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Young Aboriginal voices – the heard and the unheard – were featured in the College’s Koori Twilight session Experiences of Young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the Justice System.

The cost of not listening to young Aboriginal voices was spelt out by Luke Edwards, of Balit Ngulu, the only legal support service serving Aboriginal children.

Luke spoke passionately about the effects of Aboriginal children’s and young people’s experiences in the legal system, and that the justice system asks a lot of a child.

He said Aboriginal children could not be expected to be full and robust participants in the justice system while they could be taken from their families and communities, did not have things explained to them on their level, and were given little in the way of culturally sensitive support.

‘Give Aboriginal children and young people a chance to communicate and understand, they will participate in the process,’ he said. ‘On the other hand, if you alienate them and speak over them, they can’t connect with the process in any meaningful way.’

The outcome of the wrong way of treating young Aboriginal people was starkly presented when Koori Youth Council Executive officer Indi Clarke introduced the Ngaga-dji project.

Ngaga-dji – drawn from the Woiwurrung language of the Wurundjeri people and meaning ‘hear me’ –  captures the voices and experiences of Aboriginal children in Victoria’s youth justice system and is based in cultural values of listening, collaborating and care.

Through Ngaga-dji, Indi sounded a strong message for the 40 judicial officers attending: ‘These children’s experiences are the missing piece of the youth justice conversation, they hold the key to justice solutions that work.’

Indi played a video about the project, featuring the often distressing thoughts of three incarcerated young Aboriginal people.

‘My mind is crashing,’ one of the participants said, recounting the horror of her experience.

The twilight finished on a positive note with Ed Tudor and Michelle Kerrin from the Melbourne Indigenous Transition School inspiring the audience with the work the school is doing connecting young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders from the Top End with a city education in Melbourne.

The School aims to marry the desire and ambition of young people to have a city education with the desire of city schools to develop culturally sensitive programs.

“I don’t think these kids realise how much they’re changing our partner schools,” said Michelle Kerrin. “They’re the ones creating change, just by going to school.”

The session was hosted by Magistrate Jennifer Bowles who gave a moving eulogy to Aunty Joan Vickery.

Photo (left to right): Luke Edwards, Ed Tudor, Michelle Kerrin, Magistrate Jennie Bowles and Indi Clarke


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