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What do young fellas reckon? Exploring the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth in native title

Aboriginal Australian youth Native Title Indigenous knowledge Australia

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) embarked on a pilot research project into youth experiences of native title. Their stories and perspectives, whether as professionals or community representatives, need the opportunity to be heard. This paper highlights that younger generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are ready and eager to step into the space created by their elders. In contrast to common narratives of disengagement and disinterest, young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are an asset.

Key Findings:

  • The way in which young Aboriginal and Torre Strait Islander people experience ‘culture’ has changed and continues to do so. Unlike in previous generations where cultural transmission occurred through living on-country and being surrounded by elders in an Indigenous world, or at least, a more intact and functioning Indigenous world, young people experience culture through collapsed time. Organised around a 12-month  calendar and professional, economic and educational pressures, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people and their communities are evolving and fostering cultural knowledge transmission through condensed and intense learning.
  • If native title rights and interests can act as the foundation that promotes sustainable economic growth, this study has demonstrated that young generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will seek out those opportunities, providing benefit for both their communities and the wider regions. 
  • Research participants who were able to demonstrate a high level of awareness of the technical and applied aspects of native title were all engaged in the business of native title in a professional capacity. However, working for a native title organisation may not be a desirable career pathway for many young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Alternative pathways must exist to provide more young people with access to relevant knowledge and information such as targeted training courses. Yet across the group, the participants were not aware of any significant training programs that address this need. Participants studying at university suggested incorporating native title into their formal education would be of great benefit.
  • Even with the availability of new technology to connect young people to their family and community, such as mobile phones and social media, young people value being physically present on-country above all else. It is critical that community groups and organisations, including Registered Native Title Bodies Corporates (RNTBCs), continue to create opportunities to draw young people back. Communities that are able to maximise the time young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people spend on-country, including fostering knowledge transmission through cultural programs or scheduling significant community meetings adjacent to long weekends or during teaching breaks, will be better equipped to foster community leadership through succession planning.

Long-term investment in young people will, over time, support them to grow into the leaders of tomorrow and bring with them fresh ideas, knowledge and confidence. Unlocking this potential requires sponsorship from senior family members, mentoring and imbuing their youth with corporate and cultural knowledge. If complimented by the coordinated development of training and education programs, young people will possess the requisite knowledge and skills to leverage native title into a regime that fosters sustainable self-determination. This also requires genuine commitment from government to transform native title into a regime that licenses young leaders to develop economic opportunities. To do so would be of great long-term benefit not only to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but all of Australia.

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