In the most recent QLD Indigenous Youth Leadership Program, a group of 50 youth leaders were asked to raise their hands if they were interested in a career in politics.
No one put their hand up. Not even me.
In Australia, our federal system represents a blend of political traditions – namely ‘Washminster’ – a combination of the ‘Washington’ and ‘Westminster’ systems of the US and UK respectively. Combining the practices of two Western cultures is not a particularly difficult task.
The greater challenge lies in incorporating Indigenous and non-Western ideals into political systems and structures when they’re fundamentally at odds with each other.
Therein lies the dilemma for many young Indigenous leaders – like me.
Stuck walking between two worlds – one of culture, connection and Country; and another of systems, processes and structures. But the importance of balancing the two worlds can’t be denied – how else will we achieve outcomes for our people in a Western-centric world?
Cultural practices of First Nations people, and the important role of Elders in determining the way forward, mean First Nations youth face cultural conflict when stepping up into leadership roles and trying to drive change for our people. It is a balancing act of adhering to cultural protocols and operating through a Western system. Many Elders believe this is incompatible with cultural practices.
This was evident during the deliberations over the Uluru Statement from the Heart in 2017. While there was broad consensus for the Statement, there wasn’t universal accord. Indeed, there was a chorus of different opinions – and rightly so – as we cannot expect the diverse voices of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities to definitively agree on every issue facing our people.
Allan Pard, Piikani Nation Elder from Canada said: “Co-existence is key and a collaborative effort is needed by both Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples to break the status-quo way of thinking that has been prevalent for too long. . . . The ability to walk in both worlds and without doubt, with your family, your community and culture.”