Paris Mordecai

Social Science
Winter 2018

This winter, I completed a Commonwealth funded internship with the Foundation for Young Australians (FYA) via the Aurora Internship Program. I have previously completed an internship in the corporate sector in social impact and human rights, however, I sometimes felt removed from the work’s impact due to its high level nature. I sought to reconcile this through an experience in a grassroots organisation. It was recommended by my last workplace that I go into the non-profit space as part of my career journey in social justice and social change, so when I came across Aurora I was very interested and even more so when coming across FYA as one of the potential hosts.

I was privileged to be able to attend FYA’s Young Indigenous Leadership Program –IMPACT, in Broome, WA where I co-facilitated the program for Year 12 students, alongside other young Indigenous leaders. The program aims to give young mob the skills to walk in two worlds with personal and cultural confidence, especially as they face the prospect of moving off country to pursue education and work opportunities. I found that trust, respect and commitment were required in me by the vulnerability of the young people that the program inspired, and it was a great privilege to grow alongside them on this journey and to potentially have had an impact that transcends the duration of the program. IMPACT is also fantastic in building upon the role young people play in the continuity of culture, not just as receptacles but as agents of knowledge. IMPACT seeks to complement the development of cultural expertise in young people facilitated by their communities, by connecting with them with other young blak leaders such as myself, who give them tools and skills such as digital literacy to both take back to their communities and out into the world.

Through this experience I became acutely aware of my privilege, and my sense of social justice and obligation was heightened consequently, becoming a source of motivation. I have since been employed by FYA on a casual basis and will be joining the IMPACT students in Darwin, NT in October for the final camp of their program. This experience has had a significant impact on myself by strengthening my passions to give back to community, to foster the excellence of our young people, and to be active in the development of our future leaders and change makers. Working as a mentor gives me the greatest sense of accomplishment I have ever experienced and I am passionate about continuing this work into the future. It was also a really enriching experience personally as I was able to come to a greater sense of my Indigeneity through knowledge-sharing with the students.

As part of our time in Broome, myself and the young people also attended the National Native Title Conference held at Cable Beach. This was an incredible opportunity to be amongst old and young peoples from nations all over Australia to discuss topics of common interest and difference. We were invited to attend the Youth Forum to discuss strategies to increase youth engagement with native title. We also heard of the intercultural contestation arising from native title, issues of sovereignty and the Uluru Statement from the Heart. On the afternoon of the last conference day, we were invited out on to Yawuru country and to Roebuck Plains Station to learn about caring for country and self-determination.

One session that was of a particular interest to me was Women in Indigenous Governance convened by Michelle Deshong. As a Gender Studies student and a young blak woman, the clearly delineated gender roles in traditional Indigenous society can often be seen as inhibitor to female Indigenous leadership, as it is considered “not cultural”. To be engaged in intersectional dialogue with other blak women was inspiring and a space that I hope to engage in further. 

Upon returning to the Melbourne office, I was able to implement my research background, analytical skills and cultural knowledge to evaluate the IMPACT program as part of the development of FYA’s Indigenous strategy. This strategy will be the cornerstone of future FYA Indigenous youth programs, as well as the organisation’s governance practices. I began a SWOT analysis of the IMPACT program using my observations from the camp, desktop research, and a comparison of IMPACT with other FYA projects to inform the reimagination of IMPACT for the future.

I was also involved in the research stage of the second edition of FYA’s ‘How young people are faring’ report, entitled ‘State of the Nation’. I was pushed to challenge my somewhat aversion to quantitative research by dealing with big data sets and using my critical analytical skills to pick out innovative statistics that show the unique realities of young people today. I was also required to use my problem solving skills when looking at all the different data sets, dealing with the question of how we synthesise all the different sources and all their different sample scopes and sizes, to create a compelling narrative about what being a young person today looks like.

I am so grateful for this experience and for the opportunity to attend IMPACT and the National Native Title conference; it has been the highlight of the year and a seminal moment in my life. Working on the IMPACT program showed me how much I love working hands on with students and to connect, knowledge-share and be part of their development as strong blak young people. It really affirmed for me the direction I want go, and what space I want to be working in and creating change. It also showed me how much learning I have yet to do, so I’m leaving this experience even more passionate and excited!