Abby Mankelow

Social Science
Aboriginal Legal Services
Winter 2018

As part of the Aurora Internship Program, I was given the opportunity to spend 6 weeks with NAAJA in the Law and Justice Projects division, working with the Law and Justice Projects manager, Community Legal Education (CLE) team, Restorative Justice officer, and the Peer Panel coordinator.

As a Criminology and Criminal Justice student, I was firstly hesitant on how I could contribute to a legal organization without a legal qualification. However, it dawned on me quickly after commencing that NAAJA was involved in so much more than what you would typically define as legal support for Indigenous Aboriginal peoples. NAAJA as a whole is committed to the assistance and education of Indigenous Aboriginal peoples in all facets of life; from health and housing, to family and criminal matters. The staff present such unparalleled passion and work ethic for the advocacy of our Traditional Owners of the land that we are so lucky to thrive on ourselves. Certainly, NAAJA is constantly kept on their toes. The work I contributed to was fast paced, unique, and varied, from restorative justice projects to community legal education sessions. Advocacy and education form a crucial part of the work NAAJA is committed to, and the most gratifying aspect was knowing that this work made a direct impact on the lives of the people in need that we engaged.

Amazingly, I was given opportunity to go on two separate bush trips with the CLE team totaling 2 weeks. Lajamanu and Ngukurr proved to be a challenging experienced, having driven 8 hours each way to each location. Nonetheless, the staff conduct these trips regularly. I felt extremely lucky to go out into these communities and talk face-to-face with the leading elders who raised specific community issues they are facing, as well as strategizing ways to move forward. This also involved structuring our limited time in the community to focus on particular issues they want address, and to whom. We liaised with a range of groups including the preschool and childcare centers, school classes, young mothers, and the elders. Something that stood out to me, was the way in which each community suffered different problems, and most importantly, how each community felt strongly about taking control of their own communities to make it a safer and more cohesive home for all its inhabitants. This engagement with such remote communities was a unique experience that allowed me to put what I had learned from lecture slides into real-life practice. Whilst NAAJA led the way, they entrusted in my capabilities to bring a new perspective to perplexing problems often encountered with limited funding and time.

I learned what it meant to be culturally competent, a concept I thought I had achieved but realized how truly complex it really was. It was extremely enlightening to learn how Indigenous Aboriginals are so disadvantaged in every aspect of life and attempting to work with a system that is inherently tailored to western ways. The holistic approach that NAAJA takes to not only assisting Indigenous peoples suffering from disadvantage, but also legal education and formation of such projects allowed me to develop my own professional skills in multiple areas. At the failings of government efforts, NAAJA achieves a fine balance between allowing for self-determination and providing legal understanding and representation, all whilst maintaining a culturally considered practice.

I was trusted to contribute meaningful work to the organizations underlying goals in a way that completely exceeded my expectations. It is this gap in society, where Indigenous Aboriginals are cyclically entrenched in the system that NAAJA strives to close, and I am grateful to the Aurora Program for providing me with the opportunity to work with such an organization.

The most beneficial way to get first-hand experience in working closely in advocacy and legal assistance with Indigenous Aboriginal peoples is to intern with NAAJA through tAurora. For more information, please visit: Applications for the winter 2019 round will be open online via the website from 4 through 29 March 2019.